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Road to Oscars – An Education & A Serious Man

02 Mar

AN EDUCATION
2009
Directed by: Lone Scherfig
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson, Peter Sarsgaard
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13 For mature thematic material involving sexual content, and for smoking

I deliberately went into this film having avoided any and all reviews, trailers, or blog posts.  I usually am a sucker for romantic dramas.  My wife has no problem getting me into  the local cineplex to see wonderfully crafted films such as “Once”, “Pride and Prejudice”, “Before Sunrise”, or “Remains of the Day”.  I’m even a fan of excellently produced May-December romance pics such as “An Affair to Remember”, “The Graduate”, “Crazy Heart”, and “Love in the Afternoon”.  I appreciate a story that begins with the appearance that the characters are destined for failure, but eventually overcome any hurdles by films end, proving the old adage that “Love Conquers All”.  “An Education” fits only part of that bill.

Newcomer Carey Mulligan is a fine actress, and is amazingly believable in her portrayal of a smitten young teen.  If nothing else, I wouldn’t be surprised if she wins the Best Actress Oscar, and goes on to a very fulfilling career in film.  Mulligan plays a credulous 16 year old who meets the guile older man, played by Peter Sarsgaard with perfection, and begins to fall head-over-heels for him and his sophisticated/avant-garde lifestyle.  All those around her seem to support her relationship with her new suitor, despite the fact that he is twice her age, and she is a minor.  The only exception being that of her instructor, played by Emma Thompson.  This was the only fault I had with this film.  I simply had a hard time believing that at least one of her parents wouldn’t have at least questioned the relationship, considering how “conservative” the father initially was portrayed.  The music and set designs of the film are excellently crafted together to further prove that Lone Scherfig is a very talented film-maker.  As entertaining as though the film may be, I found it a little predictable towards the end.  Thankfully, the film is rescued by the acting all around, and is worth a viewing for the performances alone.

Rating
= *** / 5


A SERIOUS MAN
2009
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Aaron Wolff, Richard Kind
Genre: Drama
Rated R For language, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence

Let me preface this review by stating that I generally am a fan of the Coen brothers’ films.  “Raising Arizona” and “The Big Lebowski” are easily in my top 100 list.  The wry, often dark, humor that peppers the brothers’ films sets their body of work above the rest.  Which is why a film like “A Serious Man” disappoints.  I can’t quite place my finger on the reason this film didn’t resonate with me the way films like “Fargo”, “Hudsucker Proxy”, or “Barton Fink” had.  Perhaps it’s my lack of knowledge in the subject matter.  This is a work of love; a very passionate film deeply entwined with the customs and language of a Jewish family.

I can appreciate the film for it’s portrayal of a 1967 Jewish neighborhood that bears a strong resemblance to the neighborhood familiar to the Coen’s.  What I can’t get past is that there fails to be a character in the film to stand behind and root for.  There isn’t a character that is portrayed in an overall positive light.  Larry Gopnik, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, is a miserable man who doesn’t know what he wants in life.  Larry’s wife, Judith, is having an affair, and thus leaves him, for “friendly” neighbor Sy Ableman. Larry’s children are equally as contemptible.  His daughter is a materialistic thief, stealing money from her own father for her selfish ambitions.   His son is a loaf who gives more energy into watching TV and listening to the latest album than prepare for something as important as his bar mitzvah.  Larry’s lazy brother does nothing but lounge on his couch all day.  Even the somber “Fargo” had a positive, likable character in Marge Gunderson.  It’s hard to get behind a film, when you can’t get behind any of the characters.

Rating
= ** / 5

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Posted by on March 2, 2010 in Movies

 

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