One thing I can say is that these guys buck the trend. Even with a picture like The Ladykillers, which in my opinion doesn’t quite hang together as it should, there’s plenty to enjoy, the characters are colorful, their collective fates well-deserved. I mean, a recurring gag where characters are dropped from a bridge onto trash barges floating down the river? A character named Mountain Girl described as “a sixty-year-old lady in pigtails” (who met her lover, the criminal gang’s [inept] explosives “expert,” at an IBS conference, of all places)? It’s not their best movie, but it is one of the best send-ups I’ve ever found of that whole heist-with-experts subgenre that has become so popular in recent years.
What I like about their work is that it feels more honest to me than most films: doing difficult things is actually difficult, and no training montage will ever make a hopeless moron an expert. Likewise, stupid people often really do destroy themselves, sometimes quite literally. (A fact to which the Darwin Awards attest.) Stupid people often overestimate their competence, and underestimate the competence of others. (No, really. It’s known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect.)
Yet it’s so rare one finds films in which stupidity dooms a character; rather, morons often are put up on a pedestal, as if they’re the ones we need to save the world: we need roughneck miners to go to space to save the world. We need a thug with a gun to save the world. This isn’t how history actually has happened so far, though. Time and again, it’s been intelligent people who’ve made the difference between sickness and health, between suffering and comfort, between horror and joy. You’d think one of Hollywood’s maxims was, “No moron left behind,” and if you thought about it too long, you’d end up wondering why Hollywood is so eager to propagandize for the benefit of the morons for the world…
Not so in the Coen Brothers films… and their films feature morons in such numbers, and so cleverly, that you don’t always even recognize the morons at first. (The most outstanding example being The Man Who Wasn’t There, where most viewers will not realize their trusty narrator is yet another Coen Brothers self-dooming moron from the get-go, because of the way the narrative and the imagery conforms to the noir genre.) By the way, I think The Man Who Wasn’t There is probably my favorite Coen Bros. film, and easily in my top ten films. It’s beautiful, it’s intelligent, it messes with you in all the best ways, and it’s a great story.
All of which leaves me puzzled when it comes to the popularity of the The Big Lebowski, the film I re-watched with Mrs. Jiwaku a while ago.