One of the interesting things about the Coen Brothers’ movies is the variety of reaction they elicit from their fans. People who claim to be fans of Coppola generally have the same set of favorite movies (perhaps re-ordering them a bit). Spielberg fans don’t say they love “Schindler’s List” but hated “E.T.” But ask a dozen Coen Brothers fans what their best movie is, and you’ll get six different answers. Not only that, you’ll inevitably get someone in the list who hated someone else’s favorite.
Lance Mannion, for example, in a very interesting post on their movies, writes, “The Hudsucker Proxy is a failure, and The Man Who Wasn’t There is a bad movie.”
The Hudsucker Proxy might be my favorite Coen Brothers movie, or The Big Lebowski might be, though I like O Brother Where Art Thou and No Country For Old Men. Lance loves The Big Lebowski and O Brother. He also likes Intolerable Cruelty, which I’ve mostly heard panned (haven’t seen it), and Raising Arizona, which is the Coen Brothers movie most people seem to agree on as “good” (and, oddly, I don’t have much affection for).
He doesn’t mention The Ladykillers, wisely. That might be the one most people agree on as “bad.”
I liked The Man Who Wasn’t There, personally, except for the odd space alien subplot. I thought Billy Bob Thornton was pretty effective, and the movie itself strangely touching. And I have a co-worker who hated The Big Lebowski. So who knows?
The interesting thing about all this is that I think Lance is right when he says they are cartoons, but the effect of that is that the characters become templates (tying into my last posting about characters) and we can project easily onto them. The Coens tell stories and create characters that people read a lot of themselves into, that they take very personally. They’re exaggerated enough that we can take their exaggerated traits and apply them to ourselves, or people we know. So people will say, “I can appreciate that No Country For Old Men was a good film, but I hated it.”
I don’t know whether there’s a conclusion to all this. Certainly the cartoonish aspects of the Coens’ characters is one of the main appeals of their movies (the others being the writing and the stunning way they immerse each movie in its own world). They’ve forged a successful career out of creating specifically unreal characters. Whether that’s something you want to do is your call, but you should remember at least that most memorable characters have some exaggeration or cartoonishness about them.