Notes From the Overgrowned

by Lisa Rosman
November 8, 2009 6:35 AM
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Or should I say Overgroaned?

Tis true: After nearly three weeks of bloggy silence I assault you right out of the gate with not one but two puns. What can I say? This is the New Deal. See Sally run.

To wit:

1. I really dug Where The Wild Things Are, even more so a month after screening it. I’ve never fancied Spike Jonze’s films before; his meta navel-gazing always seemed a squandering of his wholly original talents. But this project channels a purity that his previous ones only mourned, abjectly. It’s not really for (or explicitly not for) children so much as it is about childhood and how it never ends. How we never scrap those little-kid raw feelings so much as obscure them, developing coping mechanisms that morph us into what Sherwood Anderson called the “grotesques.” Even the occasional scenes that dragged evoked the pleasurable, painful restlessness of childhood that is never as comfortable as we remember later. The voice actors nailed it, especially raspy, tender James Gandolfini, my forever crush. And the film looked so great, though I could have done without the overkill of Karen O’s indie-cred soundtrack. I hate soundtracks more and more.

2. The Jews are back this fall. For years the only representation of actual Jewish America onscreen has been the never-ending onslaught of Holocaust flicks and Judd A(pa)toners. (That’s three, I know.) It’s enough to make a girl long for the likes of Barry Levinson, Rainman aside. But this year, not one but two films featured in NYFF culminated in a bar mitzvah: Todd Solonz’s Life During Wartime (one word: OMAR) and the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, which may be their first somber movie of merit. No Country for Old Men didn’t work for me because their odds bodkins, Yiddish sensibility didn’t marry well with the sere-sky, ultimate-gentile subject matter. Here, literally on their own turf, The Brothers C bare their existentialist fangs. I’d never really considered it before, but Judaism filtered through the superficial ‘60s that made it to the Heartland defines Coen—though usually with a whiff of pre-Code Hollywood whimsy. Grim and glacial, Serious Man never equivocates as it swoops around big questions. Namely, how to secure meaning in a dank present that lacks a fairytale myth of afterlife.

3. Also. How funny that there are not one but two Jobs floating through theaters right now: Serious Man’s Jewish Job, Larry Gopnik, and the gentile Precious, who admittedly prays at the altar of pop culture rather than Christ. Job has always surfaced as a cinematic device throughout film, though he’s usually redeemed, whether it’s in It's a Wonderful Life or Scorsese’s oft-forgotten After Hours. He also typically grates, and I've trying to sort out whether Precious and Serious Man grate less because they are never really redeemed.

4. And speaking of big, unanswered questions, I have become obsessed with Swedish detective novels. It started with Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequel, and now I’ve moved onto all of the gloomy Wallander books by Henning Mankell. They’re not the most expertly plotted of mysteries; The Wire may have set the bar too high for detective fiction in all mediums. But the genre's existentialist despair, the uncompromising work ethic, the acceptance of how sad life can be when you try to live it as an adult, and the undying conviction that people can do better by each other—it's all so Swedish, so unadorned, so oddly comforting. I recommend.

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