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A Serious Man (2009) -vs- Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Sherry CobenThe Smackdown.

Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers. Three of America’s very Coolest filmmakers have traded in their hip cachet for projects so unhip they might just be cooler than cool. The Coen Brothers go-go back to the desperately unchic seventies with a cast of unknowns, and Wes Anderson plays beautiful havoc with stop-motion furries voiced by unseen, tippy-top-of-their-game megastars Clooney and Streep. And everybody wins.



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In This Corner

“A Serious Man” (2009) Forsaking their coolness (Who, Us? Jewish? Cohen without the H, and that missing H stands for Hebe!) and embracing or perhaps attacking/strangling their (until now, well-hidden) suburban Minnesotan Jewboy roots, the  Coen Brothers dip into some pretty personal mythology, with heaping helpings of Lot-fueled Biblical metaphor and heavy duty (if hilariously accurate) ethnic stereotyping, coming up with a laugh-out- oud examination of faith and morality and filial obligation and suffering and human frailty and a whole Lot of other Big Ideas usually left to scholars and pedants, not mainstream artsy American filmmakers. And it is good. (Only after an Academy Award win would the powers that be consent to this risky little venture…and only after that win would the Brothers dare ask for that consent.)

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In That Corner

I think Fantastic Mr. Fox might just be my favorite Wes Anderson film. Anderson’s always been a charmer, and his visuals are dizzifyingly swell, all the tiniest details chosen with the eye of a cutting- edge artist with a sense of history laced with the effortlessly hip veneer of what’s about to come. (Who didn’t lust after the Darjeeling Limited Luis Vuitton luggage?) His films feature gorgeously distinct color palettes, simultaneously timeless and of-the-moment set décor and design, iconic costuming and hairstyling – it’s all a Vanity Fair spread in glorious too-cool-for-school motion. But Fantastic Mr. Fox takes the Anderson aesthetic a few steps further, animation allowing for the kind of visual creative control a film director usually only dreams of achieving. The entire world is literally built from scratch; even the characters, every stitch they wear, every hair and claw. The stellar character animation is equalled by the remarkable voice acting; the cast features gigantic and familiar players (Clooney and Streep), Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, alongside virtual unknowns just as impeccably right.

Mr. Fox’s eyes are more expressive than Sandra Bullock’s. Nothing against the Divine Miss B, but her human optic organs are gleaming black buttons while Mr. Fox’s tell you everything you need to know, and his mole cohort Kylie’s pinwheel eyes are the source of several well-earned bursts of out-loud laughter. The stop-motion animation is a glory, a revelation. Beautifully breakthrough, captivatingly cinematic, the furry (and the fleshy) creatures held  me in a little ring of enchantment from the first frame till the last.

The Scorecard

I thoroughly enjoyed both films. Frankly though, I don’t know who these movies are for. I hesitate to recommend them to everyone I know; both seem to require a more peculiar and particular palate than most. Unlike the laser-beam-accurately aimed Twilight franchise, these films have no real clear target audience. Marketing people (and critics) have their hands full with both; while Fox seems likely family fare given its Roald Dahl genesis and animation genre, it’s an instant hipster classic, unlikely to draw exactly the right people in its initial run. If your child loves it, I salute you. Clearly, you’re doing something terrific as a parent. I don’t want to be the one to let you in on this secret, but your child is super cool already, a baby hipster destined to live in the Village and appreciate classic foreign films in high school. Get him or her started early; he or she is probably way cooler than you were or ever will be. I hesitate to overpraise the film, wanting any audience I can propel into the theaters to be happily surprised by the wonders there waiting, not disappointed.

I can’t imagine non-Jews trooping into their local yokel multiplex to watch unknowns (when Richard Kind is your marquee name, you’re barking up a very rareified and different tree indeed) in an unabashedly Jewish movie. So many previous films have used the rites (and wrongs) of the Catholic church to explore similar themes; given how many Jews pursue a lucrative living in show business, particularly the movie business, it’s telling how few films dare to venture into the rabbi’s study or even the Jewish family home. Well, the Coen brothers went there.

I’m sure a few sensitive souls will take offense, imagining slights and insults. I’d advise any anti- efamation types to steer clear or bring along your little-used sense of humor – it’s probably right where you left it, on that high shelf in the back of your closet along with your other mementos of when you used to have fun. Go rummaging.

The Decision

Eeny meeny miny mo. I take the Fox.

About Sherry Coben 77 Articles
A comedy writer who created the 1980s hit show Kate & Allie, Sherry Coben — tired of malingering in development hell — has enjoyed coaching a high school ComedySportz team in SoCal, making a no-budget, high-ambition webisode series, and biting the hand that feeds her.

5 Comments on A Serious Man (2009) -vs- Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

  1. A Serious Man was a lovely way to immerse myself in Jewish roots I’d forgotten I had. Watching it with someone brought up as a Christian (but with a real empathy for my background) made it especially poignant. I was flooded with memories, some quite amusing, some very sad. The problem is that recommending it to friends is a tricky business. Not at all sure that they’d “get it.” We did.

  2. One of the best animated movie……Good work…..

  3. Good Take on both of these films. People like to define movies by saying, “It’s like… meets … (fill in your movies of choice) but it’s much harder to do with these two. I’m with you as far as who to recommend them to. Nice reviews.

  4. I had an odd reaction to A SERIOUS MAN. I wasn’t sure I liked it when I first saw it. (We’d had a screener sent to us by the studio). I reserved judgment then, about three days later, I realized that I liked it very, very much and it didn’t even matter that several of my friends acted like it was confusing or off-putting or whatever. It just burrowed its way into my psyche, and I responded.
    Hope to see FANTASTIC MR. FOX very soon.

  5. I agree completely! These are two of the best movies I’ve seen this year, but I don’t know who to recommend them to, and I’m scared of overselling them. I think the way I’ll go about it is to wait until someone else brings them up, i.e., “I hear A Serious Man/Fantastic Mr. Fox is good, should I see it?” And then I’ll say yes and leave it at that.

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