I went into this film knowing absolutely nothing about it, other than the fact that it is a Coen brother’s movie – that alone was enough for me to commit to watching. Bored and alone on a Saturday night, it came on my shitty 15 inch portable tv and I thought “why not?”. Wow, what a pleasant surprise I got watching it. I love this movie. It is a totally left field experiment in what constitutes comedy, toeing the line between cringe and humour in a dark and totally unexpected way. I don’t think a film has ever made me feel simultaneously uncomfortable, intrigued and amused. Very strange, but enjoyable.
Our central character is Larry Gopnik can be described in one word: unfortunate. This film is essentially telling the story of Larry during a particularly unlucky period in his life (“clusterfuck” I believe is the modern term). It is not a linear story, there is no beginning, middle and conclusion; we are simply thrust into Larry’s life and watch him descend into a spiral of ridiculously unfortunate situations. There is a tongue-in-cheek quality I get while watching the film, it seems so unfair to see such a seemingly nice man, who has always done right by everyone else in his life should be subject to such outrageous bad luck. In a way it is hard to watch, and yet I could not pull myself away.
Looking at other reviews online, I see a lot of people hated this film. It does seem to be a divider, you either really enjoyed it or couldn’t make it past the first 10 minutes. A lot of people use the explanation “you have to be Jewish to appreciate it, and i’m not” – well neither am I. Anyone who has an attention span beyond that of a squirrel, who appreciates a film that takes it time to tell you a story albeit in an unconventional way, will enjoy this movie. No Jewishness required. Although I will acknowledge that the opening 10 minutes or so are so strange and jarring that it is ALMOST offputting – I implore to stick with it, it more than pays off.
There is a wonderful use of music (Jefferson Airplane used wonderfully throughout), colour, styling and tone which so easily sets the film in it’s 1960’s timeframe. I particularly appreciated the scene with Larry and Mrs. Samsky, the use of the colour orange, the dreamy music, the set design, the camera affects – what a fantastic piece of work. I also enjoyed how sympathetic the character of Larry is. Without going all Disney on us in terms of hamming up what a great guy he is, we can’t help but root for Larry and want him to come out on top. His character is complex – far from perfect but his imperfections added to his likeability in my opinion, a man who values his family above all else when they use him as a glorified doormat, a man who finds comfort in the logic and reliability of mathematics, a man who gets high with his slut neighbour to spite his wife. I think a lot of the success of this film hinges on what a fantastic character the Coens flesh out Larry to be.
I can see why some people dislike it, and even hate it because it is SO unconventional. It does not follow the standard movie storyline template – but why is that a bad thing? The atmosphere, the awkwardness, the music, the style, the strange black comedy and restrained spiral into despair of Larry and yes even THAT ending – to me, it’s all awesome. This film definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy an off the beaten track black comedy, give it a whirl. I sure am glad I did. 7/10.