Overlooked Film of the Week- #81
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Coen Brothers are some of the very best American filmmakers. They are a group that I have been following for as long as I can remember. Alas, when heavy Coens fans bring up what they feel as the best Coen Brothers movies, they rarely look to their comedy. The Coen Brothers are interesting because they can destroy you with laughter just as successfully as then can destroy you with shock. It seems that some of their big guns are "Fargo," "Miller's Crossing," "Blood Simple," and "No Country For Old Men." If somebody talks about a Coen comedy, they usually bring up "The Big Lebowski," for a totally good reason, I believe. Their other comedies just haven't won over audiences like their other films have, "Burn After Reading" and "The Ladykillers" just don't have the jolt that The Lebowski does. With that said, there is another comedy that I feel also gets lost in the tussle, but I am still incredibly in love with it. I am talking about "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
When The Coen's made "Fargo" they played with the audience a bit. One of the iconic pieces of that movie, is its opening title-card, telling its audience that "Fargo" is based on a true story. If you read up on that movie, you will learn that "Fargo" being based on a true story is false, and the Coen's thought it would be funny. With "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" the Coen's put together a zany ode to Homer's "The Odyssey," even though I will say that it is very much a loose adaptation. Instead of Poseidon lurking around every corner, trying to sabotage our heroes, its The Devil doing all the lurking. Instead of a decorated general and his company returning from a long war, its three dim-witted convicts who escape jail to find a mysterious loot. But yes, there is a Cyclops, and a few sirens and a long, lost love about to be courted by a suitor.
George Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill, a man who plans a jailbreak with Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) in 1937. He promises a big sum of money he hid from a job which got him in prison, and the area in which he hid the money is bound to be flooded. McGill takes his two friends on a crazy journey to find the money. However, McGill has a different route. There is no money, it was all a part of a plan to get Pete and Delmar to help him. McGill is really trying to stop his ex-wife Penny (Holly Hunter) from marrying. Along this journey, McGill, Pete and Delmar become the popular singing trio, The Soggy Bottom Boys. And they also help a courageous Governor with his re-election campaign.
So yes, ultimately its nothing like Homer's Odyssey. But that doesn't mean it isn't lavishly funny. The chemistry between Clooney, Turturro, and Nelson is the only reason to really see this movie. Clooney has never had such a bright, comedic edge in a movie before, and its kind of remarkable to watch. Having Turturro and Nelson to bounce off of is also a big help. As well as John Goodman, Stephen Root, Chris Thomas King and Lee Weaver who appear in the film also.
You can't discuss this movie without discussing the music. Yes, ultimately "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is essentially a musical. But not in a showtune-ish, bubbly way. This is definitely a musical for people who can't stand musicals. Of course, the most famous song is "Man of Constant Sorrow," a song that is better known that the movie it plays in. But there are several other great tunes that only add to the effectiveness of the movie. I never thought I would ever be a fan of bluegrass music, but "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" changed my perspective indefinitely.
As far as their comedies go, the Coen's don't get the glory for them as they do their dramas, but I feel "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" should always be a rare exception.