By JAMES MELVILLE
My, oh my, I do believe the time has come. What time? No, not Hammer Time. It’s never Hammer Time. Not with that attitude, it isn’t.
No, I’m talking about finals week. Papers, exams, portfolios, frenzied battles to the death. Feeling stressed? Believe me, I would sympathize if I weren’t so caught up in my own narcissistic whining. But I am, and I’m assuming that you are too, so we can both look for comfort elsewhere.
Perhaps to no one’s surprise, I’ve turned to movies for solace. Not Quantum of Solace, though, that movie sucked. Also unsurprisingly, I don’t care what you do to relieve stress, as long as it doesn’t happen during quiet hours outside my window you horrible little bastards.
The point is, when I am looking for a sweet little reprieve from the crushing weight of my education, I pop a few pi—a copy of one of my favorite movies into my girlfriend’s laptop, because I killed my MacBook. I killed it with fire. Or Dr. Pepper. Whichever is more impressive.
This week, the movie was O Brother, Where Art Thou? It made me happy, for a few hours. After that…crushing weight.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
The Plot: In Depression-era Mississippi, smooth-talking Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) busts out of a chain gang with two fellow prisoners, angry Pete (John Turturo) and sweet, dim-witted Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson). Their goal: To reach the 1.2 million dollars Everett has buried in a valley that’s going to be flooded in four days. Shenanigans ensue. Oh, and it’s a sort-of adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey.
I know that a fair amount of you have already heard of this film. I’d hope so, anyway. I mean, it is a Coen Brothers movie. You know who they are. Fargo, The Big Lebowski, the most recent True Grit. Quirky humor, sharp writing, genre-bending, all adding up to make consistently great films. Ethan and Joel Coen have been doing the Pixar thing since Buzz Lightyear was just parts in a Chinese sweat shop.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m kind of a fan. But I’m also both a professional movie critic and a film minor, so I’ve learned to appreciate their films in all the snobby, intellectual ways that come with the territory. Ah, yes, just look at how Fargo challenges crime movie conventions by juxtaposing black humor with Steve Buscemi’s weird face. Or something along those lines. Hey, I never I said I was good at my job. I don’t have to say anything, because I’m so amazing. Incidentally, I f*cking love Steve Buscemi.
None of that comes into play with O Brother for me, though. Not only is Steve Buscemi not in it, but I saw the film before I’d even heard of the Coens or had figured out how to so eloquently make fun of my own interests. All pre-pubescent me knew was that hey, this movie is really funny. I may now be more aware of things like brilliantly paced comedic dialogue or subverted genre tropes, but you know what? It’s still just as entertaining.
Watching O Brother as an almost-grown up, it’s refreshing to see George Clooney in a role that isn’t completely suave. Everett is equal parts slick charmer and lovable screw-up, an enterprising con man with his heart in the write place. Nothing seems to go quite right for him, and that’s frequently his own damn fault. His wife (Holly Hunter) wouldn’t need to tell his daughters that he’d been hit by a train if he hadn’t gone to jail, which wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t lied to the state of Mississippi about being a lawyer. Everett is a recognizably Coen-y character; endearingly quirky, but developed beyond those quirks.
Tonally, the film is more Raising Arizona than Fargo. Both Arizona and O Brother are fun, and fairly light, but the latter has the weight of experience behind it. The Coens have been doing this for a while, and they’re in their prime. It’s a solid, consistently funny film. The characters are, again, endearing, but not simply because they make us laugh. They feel human. They all have faults and foibles, hopes and dreams. It’s nice having something to care about in a character.
One other thing about O Brother that I love is that it made bluegrass music cool again, or at least brought it back to a wider audience.
Would I recommend this film to you? Absolutely. And I would judge the hell out of you for not enjoying it.
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