The latest film by Joel and Ethan Coen feels like a self-indulgent,
nostalgic waltz through a childhood that never was.
There are several dream sequences encased, and it ends kind of like a
dream often does----random images flashing through the mind, but nothing
really resolved. And then the
images dissipate, and disappear, and we’re left with sensations without
See, there’s this good American Jewish family in the 1950’s.
Stultifying suburbia, Neanderthal “goy” next door, musclehead in a
t-shirt always throwing a baseball with his boy (but they’re both
continually flatfooted, as if they don’t really know what they’re doing,
they’re just playing at it). The
husband, a bright, nerdy, well-meaning guy that everyone feels comfortable
treating like dirt, is up for tenure as a professor of math.
He loves expounding the elegiac theories, but he’s kind of Father
McKenzie in the Beatles song, writing the words to a sermon that no one will
hear. His red-headed son is
studying for his Bar Mitzvah, good boy, except he’s also smoking marijuana
on the side, and he now owes the fat kid down the street, who’s constantly
ineffectually chasing him. Big
Sis is a screeching malcontent; the
only words out of her mouth are whiny complaints.
Mom wants a divorce; she
announces that she already has somebody else, but they didn’t “do”
anything. The so-called rival
turns out to be this smarmy bald guy who likes to hug, and touch his hand, and
ooze sincerity, condescendingly assuring him that they can all work through
this like mature adults. Then
there’s Dad’s useless brother who mooches off them all by occupying the
couch and the bathroom, but not a place at the table, and he’s not such a
delight to be around, either.
No wonder Dad dreams of helping his brother move to
. No wonder Dad dreams of the
bedding the lady next door whom he once spotted sunbathing in the
altogether. Naturally, she’s
unhappy, also, which would be yet another way our Mr. Everyman could get in
trouble without really enjoying himself.
Dad even tries seeing the Rabbi.
But wait, the “seasoned” Pastor is too busy----thinking----(or so
his guard-at-the-castle-door secretary says), and the middle-aged one tells
irrelevant stories (did you hear the one about the Goy dentist?) , and the
young one, well, he talks about seeing the glory of “Ha Shem” in
something even so mundane as a parking lot.
Well. So much for
pastoral guidance. Red-headed
son chants his way through his Bar Mitzvah half-stoned, but nobody seems to
notice. Dad deals with a
belligerent foreign student who’s trying to bribe him into a better grade,
then, when that doesn’t work, with his Dad who threatens a lawsuit.
What else could happen?
We’re not sure we want to know.
What passes for irony feels more like just continual whining.
The Cohen brothers have always given us cultured absurdities, but
there’s a fine line, sometimes, between a coherent farce and a rambling,
profane joke without a punch line. They’ve
given us better. And they will
again. But this one was not
their best effort.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace