Wed Night Movies: A Serious Man and why I didn’t see The Invention of Lying

This week it once again came down to 2 choices: Ricky Gervais’s Invention of Lying or the new Coen Bros. A Serious Man (cause Big Fan is apparently out of theaters already, the guy doesn’t bring Mickey Rourke outta rehab and can only get two week run at the Angelika, bitch please). I had reservations about both. Invention of Lying, as my wife but it, just had too many funny people in it. A Serious Man I want to see based solely on brand recognition, that my friend Chris knew “the wife,” and a very innovative, rhymic trailer, which told me nothing about the movie except that it was very Jewish themed and starred a guy who looked a lot like the “Can you hear me now?” Verizon guy.  I can’t remember the last time a great trailer guarenteed a great movie. (I’m talkin’ to you Watchmen.)

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I thought about asking my improv teacher, who was the naked guy in Ghost Town, but decided against even acknowledging that I knew that fact. It would like knowing Paris Hilton from her sextape. After my improv class, I brought the query to one of my fellow classmates.

“Oh its terrible. Yeah there’s way too many funny people with cameos in it. And none of them do anything funny.”

So the lesson here is Hollywood, never bring lots of funny people in to do background roles. Movies, like it or not, are half expectation. If Tina Fey’s gonna play a secretary with 3 lines in your comedy she’d better be fucking funny. You can’t just have Steve Martin come in and press a button on the elevator and then walk out. (Oh wait, he’s been doing those roles for years now.) You can, however, do funny people in bit roles it to great effect in dramas (see the Informant, i.e. Joel McHale, the Smothers Brothers, etc.)

The fall back meant literally dragging my wife (just “going out to dinner” was seriously considered and probably cheaper) out to the middle of nowhere (Lower East Side) to the lovely yet remote Landmark theater and for the second time in two months, we were delayed over half an hour because of technical difficulties. By the time the previews started my wife had a look a disgruntled Dad had that’s missing a playoff game for his kids play: THIS HAD BETTER BE GOOD.

And it was. First of all, you know a movie’s gonna have a Jewish theme when the first 10 minutes are in yiddish, set in 1890’s Russia and dresses Fyvush Finckel up as a Hassidic could be zombie. Actually I could have just said Fyvush Finckel and made the same point.fyvushfinkel

Second, is there anyone who doesn’t immediately smile when Richard Kind appears on screen? That man’s head must be 75% smile. I think Mad About You and Spin City were extended at least 2 and half seasons just cause the network execs got a cute fuzzy feeling from having him around.

OK like 70% smileAs for the movie, A Serious Man like many Coen Brothers movies, is beautifully shot, detailed world of amazing characters. They nail the local color of the late 60’s Jewish (probably Minnesota) surburbia inhabited by physics teacher Larry Gopnick, the Micheal Corelone of reactive protagonists. He literally says, I’ve done nothing, and has it thrown back in his face as a sin by his wife (who shacks up with a Palm Springs Francis Ford Coppola in polyester), his kids, his brother, the tenure commitie (have you published anything?), his rabbis, and even a Korean student he fails who in turn tries to bribe him for a passing grade. For Larry Gopnick, just going through life trying to do the right thing is not nearly enough.  The only thing he does do is sneak a look at his naked sunbathing neighbor.

A Serious Man is a great piece of comic existential film making where even God can’t help with the answers or tie up ends. It’s worth the movie just for the son’s bar mitzvah scene.  The only thing I regret is telling the cab driver on the way home that I wanted to go to Williamsburg instead of Greenpoint, since they no idea Brooklyn exists past Bedford Ave.

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