A Serious Review of a Superficial Movie
It was set in the late 60s, supposedly about Jews in Minnesota. I was interested. I am always interested in movies with Jewish themes, especially those produced by non-Jews purporting to depict Orthodox or Chassidic Jewry, as in the movie "A Stranger Among Us." I usually sit there in the theatre with clenched fists, taut muscles and gritting my teeth, as I watch an embarrassing, often painful rendering of what the producers and/or directors think "Jewish Life" is really like. With all their production assistants and dialect and behavioral and cultural "coaches" and trainers, they rarely get it right.
In contrast of course, the Israeli film Ushpizin (in Hebrew, ha-Ushpizin) was outstanding. It was produced, directed and acted by Jews, and some of them--the protagonists themselves--were Orthodox Chassidic. It was the Real Thing, done with love and understanding, and it came out RIGHT.
I was hoping for something similar in A Serious Man (naive as I am), knowing that the Coen brothers (Coen=Cohen; I can't believe that they actually come from the tribe of Levi. What a waste of a heritage) were Jewish, had never made a movie about Jews per se, and were now finally coming to terms with their Jewishness.
The only words that come to mind now, are Oy Vey. No wonder they hadn't stopped to address their Jewishness until now. They should have just kept going and not stopped.
The movie dismayed me; it was so well crafted, yet it reminded me of caricatures of the Jews in the worst times of Antisemitism, in Nazi Germany. I couldn't figure it out: a well-done, awful movie about unrealistic buffoonery people.
What's this flick about? Here's an except from Uzi Silber's review in The Jewish World of Haaretz online.
Movie reviews have outlined Larry's cascading woes: a 'get' (Jewish divorce) demanded by a yentish wife interested in an older, fatter and balder Jew; a schlubby idiot savant brother who moves in only to move out with Larry into a seedy motel; the son, a bar mitzvah boy struggling mightily with his Torah portion while listening to Jefferson Airplane stoned; a homely daughter hankering for a nose job, a student's bribery attempt; tenure endangered due to anonymous rumor mongering, illness, storm clouds. Don't ask.After writing about the initial reviewers who were all gushing all over themselves to praise this film, he shows a few chinks in the armor by mentioning some courageous dissenting voices:
The New Yorker's David Denby writes that "except for a few moments, it's hell to sit through," and concludes that "as a work of craftsmanship, the movie is fascinating; in every other way, it's insufferable." Amen.The Coen brothers have it totally wrong and off-kilter; as Uzi Silber says, they throw secular attitudes and behaviors and Reform-type Jewish practices into a concocted brew together with Orthodox Jewish expressions and language-use which don't go together and come up with a stereotype-cartoon creation which doesn't exist in real life.
Similarly, Michelle Orange of Movieline.com opines that the movie is "a slog, mostly; expertly crafted and yet difficult to watch." Amen sela.
For a while, it threw me, too: it was so well-done, I was trying to figure out what was wrong with it. Silber had it down pat:
So why the storm of accolades? Nell Minow of beliefnet.com distills this accurately: "Meticulous and imaginative production design and a level of opacity far beyond most mainstream releases [are] often confused with profundity."Mea culpa.
Go see it. Just to see what Jews are NOT. (I shouldn't have canceled class.)