Sometimes, art deserves a second chance. Often, I’ll enjoy a film but won’t love it until I’ve seen it two or three times. Other times I’ll dislike a movie but change my mind if I give it another go. There are a lot of reasons this can happen, but in the spirit of not being an unforgiving, judgmental asshole all the time, I decided to finally institute Second Chance Tuesdays. (Occasionally. Let’s be clear about that: I prefer to spend the majority of my time watching movies I actually want to watch.) A couple of months ago, I did a poll for my first SCT movie. You guys voted, and one day before my self-imposed deadline, I have your review.
I’m sorry to disappoint many of you, but I still feel pretty meh about Fargo.
If you haven’t seen Fargo yet, steer clear, for SPOILERS abound.
Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hires Carl and Gaear (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife so that he can steal the ransom money from his father-in-law. Things don’t go according to plan, and very pregnant Marge (Frances McDormand) investigates.
1. Fargo and I get off on the wrong foot immediately.
No, it FUCKING ISN’T.
Listen. This is a thing filmmakers do sometimes — often in horror but occasionally in other genres — that drives me up the fucking wall. The idea is to sucker gullible audience members into investing more credence and concern than they’d normally do for something that’s “just a story,” which I think is dishonest as hell. When I see a disclaimer like this, Yellow Alert warnings start going off in my nerdy little brain; in fact, the very first note I wrote down, approximately four seconds into this movie, was “I IMMEDIATELY DOUBT THIS.” Caps and all. And two seconds of internet research proved my suspicions correct. Fargo appears to take some elements from a few real crimes, but to say that this story was told “exactly as it occurred” is a whole other level of bullshit.
No doubt this will not bother many of you. And really, I get that — we’ve all got stuff that seriously pisses us off, even though it’s trivial shit to everyone else. But at best, I think it’s a lazy crutch to grab viewers, and at worst, I think the creators are breaking trust straight away. You give me a story, and I bring my suspension of disbelief to the table. That’s how it works. To try and cheat me into looking over any eccentricities or, God forbid, plot holes in your story by telling me, “Oh, no, seriously, this is really how it happened!” Screw you, Coen brothers. That’s a dick move. And that goes for anyone — if Joss Whedon himself (Hallowed be His Name) did something like that, I’d call him an asshole too, and to hell with how much I admire that guy. The only time I want to see a message like the one above is when it’s patently false, like when it’s introducing a movie where zombies attack and request more paramedics to eat.
See, Dan O’Bannon, I’m okay with you.
2. The disclaimer aside, I may have enjoyed Fargo slightly more this time around. It’s hard to judge — I only really held onto a few impressions from the last time I saw it. (Namely, I remember Marge being awesome, Jerry being boring, and Steve Buscemi meeting a delightfully grisly end.) On the whole, I suspect I laughed a little more on the second viewing. After all, half the lines out of Marge’s mouth — “I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work there, Lou” — are great, and the part where Jerry’s rehearsing his Bad News delivery cracks me up. Also, you know, there’s the whole accent. Everything just sounds so cheerful in Minnesota, even murder!
3. And seriously, I do like the hell out of Marge.
I’m sure someone will happily tell me all the thematic significance I missed, but to be honest I really like that Marge’s pregnancy only marginally plays into the story, that she’s just this cop who’s pregnant cause — you know — that’s a thing that happens to women sometimes. The whole story doesn’t have to be about it. She doesn’t have to deliver her baby at the most inconvenient time imaginable, like in the middle of a giant gun fight in the third act or something.
Plus, Marge is just an interesting character. She’s affable, cheerful even, but she’s also competent at the job. Everything about her should scream bumbling cop stereotype, except that she doesn’t bumble. She’s nauseous at the crime scene but only because of morning sickness, not, you know, Womanly Emotion. Frances McDormand’s performance is fantastic, and while I don’t believe Fargo should have won Best Screenplay over Lone Star in a billion years, I can’t begrudge her winning Best Actress here. She has some downright phenomenal reaction shots.
4. Unfortunately, Marge doesn’t even come into this movie until 1/3 of the story is done, and that’s a shame because I’m way less into these guys.
Here’s my problem: I can only watch inept guys be inept for so long before I just get bored, particularly if I don’t like any of the characters — and I don’t like these guys. Peter Stormare is okay, I guess — probably because he doesn’t talk very much. (That’s mean, I know, and I apologize for that. He can just be such a campy actor, which admittedly works for me in some things — like Constantine — and less so in others, like The Blacklist.) But Steve Buscemi seems to be playing the most annoying version of himself, and William H. Macy’s character just needs to be hit in the face with poisonous snakes that are cleverly concealed inside snowballs. And this isn’t a complaint to anyone’s acting; everyone’s doing exactly what they’re supposed to do. Buscemi and Macy, especially, are pretty talented guys. But 33 straight minutes of incompetence and/or whining? Guys, this just isn’t my thing.
5. Seriously, I can’t decide what annoys me more — Carl forgetting about the tags on the car, or Carl and Gaear not thinking to look for any evidence that could lead to them like, oh, I don’t know, a note about the dealer’s plates. ASSHOLES.
6. The section with Mike (Steve Park) feels a little random to me too.
Wikipedia tells me that Marge’s dinner with creepy stalking liar Mike is what clues her into the idea that Jerry is lying, but — I don’t know, that feels thin to me. Is that what you all got from watching this? Heh, maybe a third viewing would get me there, but the whole Mike subplot just felt extraneous to me, not to mention uncomfortable.
7. I do love that the briefcase full of cash is buried and never seen again. Interestingly, this bit actually gave birth to a whole other film called Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, which is apparently about a Japanese woman who believes the briefcase from Fargo is real and goes on a quest to find it. Of course, from what I understand, this movie is also purportedly based on true events, so I’m feeling a tiny bit jaded about it right now. But it’s got Rinko Kikuchi in it, so I have some mild interest.
8. Also, the woodchipper is pretty damn magnificent.
And I like, too, the symmetry between Gaear shooting that one dude as he runs across the snow and Marge shooting Gaear as he runs across the snow. There are definitely some clever bits in this movie and some very nice, simplistic cinematography too. I enjoyed the whole snow noir thing, although there’s nothing like a ridiculously white setting to remind you that you haven’t cleaned your computer screen in a while. Also, I enjoyed the super dramatic music in the beginning. That made me laugh.
9. But on the whole? I just don’t take that much from it. Parts of it are funny, sure, but it didn’t hit my funny bone that hard. And not all the humor landed for me, either, like the actual kidnapping scene itself where Jean gets all wrapped up in the shower curtain and goes flying down the stairs? I just rolled my eyes at that. I still find the majority of scenes with Jerry dull, whiny, or both. And the ending — I just found myself shrugging at it. Like, okay, now that’s over. Why am I supposed to care again?
I do like the unusual setting — I will always appreciate crime stories that are set anywhere besides New York or Boston — and the movie has its own unique voice, which is absolutely cool. But I’m just not invested in this story at all, and while I can appreciate certain aspects of the film, the movie as a whole just doesn’t do much for me.
10. Still, I will give Fargo this much: on the first try, I don’t know if I noticed the Bruce Campbell cameo. On the second go, I was like, Wait, is that . . . it is! And then I laughed my ass off.
Lou: “You see something down there, Chief?”
Marge: “No, I just think I’m gonna barf.”
Lou: “Jeez. You okay, Margie?”
Marge: “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just morning sickness. Well, that passed.”
Marge: “Yeah, now I’m hungry again.”
Marge: “I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work there, Lou.”
Hooker No.1: “Well, the little guy was kinda funny looking.”
Marge: “In what way?”
Hooker No. 1: “I dunno. Just funny looking.”
Marge: “Can you be any more specific?”
Hooker No. 1: “I couldn’t really say . . . he wasn’t circumcised.”
Marge: “Was he funny looking apart from that?”
Hooker No. 1: “Yah.”
Jerry (emotionally): “Yeah, Wade, it’s Jerry. I . . . Wade, it’s Jerry, I don’t know what to do, it’s Jean. I don’t know what to do, it’s my wife. I don’t know what to do, it’s Jean . . . Yeah, Wade, it’s Jerry, I . . . Wade, it’s Jerry, we gotta talk. It’s something, aw, jeez, it’s terrible.” (picks up phone and calls, suddenly speaking in a normal voice) “Yeah, uh, Wade Gustafson, please.”
Marge: “Aw, hon, you got Arby’s all over me.”
Marge: “There’s the car, there’s the car!”
Officer Olson: “What’d this guy look like, anyway?”
Mr. Mohra: “Oh, he was a little guy. Kinda funny looking.”
Officer Olson: “Uh-huh. In what way?”
Mr. Mohra: “Oh, just in general kinda way.”
Mike: “Do you mind if I sit over here?”
Marge: “No. Why don’t you sit over there? I’d prefer that.”
I know people love this movie. I expect to hear about that in great detail, actually. But if I liked Fargo better on a second viewing, it was only marginally.
Kidnapping is a serious business. I know we’re all human and we all make mistakes, but for Christ’s sake, guys. If you’re going to hire somebody to abduct your wife, make absolutely 100% certain that it’s necessary. Kidnapping doesn’t come with take-backsies, okay? And if you kill a cop who pulled you over for missing tags, it might behoove you to check his car for any evidence that could lead to your vehicle. And for the love of GOD, maybe put tags on your FUCKING CAR in the first place when you’ve got a woman you KIDNAPPED inside it. JESUS, people.