I have now seen 8 Coen films to date and would not profess myself a major Coen fan. I was baffled by No Country for Old Men, I fell in love with Oh Brother Where Art Thou, I watched the cult status behind Big Lebowski and Fargo grow from the sidelines, I enjoyed Intolerable Cruelty, and I lost my faith in the brothers with Ladykillers and Man Who Wasn't There.
As you can see, it's an up and down relationship that I've had with their films, and was hesitant to log in an 8th Coen outing (I feel 7 is more than enough films to see of a director you're not crazy about) but couldn't resist the bizarre-sounding plot and the idea of seeing Brad Pitt go into full comic mode. And I thoroughly loved the film.
For one thing, I'm a native of D.C. and the Coens have a great sense of place in their films: the superficiality of sunny Hollywood in Intolerable Cruelty, the bible-belt-based bluegrass-churning populist Southern Charm in Oh Brother Where Art Thou, and the quirkiness of the Minnesota cold in Fargo.
I can't tell you how great the reception was in my theater in D.C. where we might not see these things as that far-fetched: beauracrats (in the form of JK Simmons) making decisions about what to do when people are getting killed and secrets are being spilt out to other nations on the basis of what takes the least paperwork and allocating $50,000 for a random lady's plastic surgery for virtually no reason at all.
The plot is truly screwball and does a far better job of past Coen films at raising the ante in the third act so that we're invested to see what deliciously improbable ways the screenwriters will tie up the loose ends. It also doesn't help that some of the protagonists are actually likable: Brad Pitt as the airhead exercise junkie who's as faithful a friend as they come, Frances McDormand as the gym worker who just wants to look pretty, Richard Jenkins as the poor schlub who likes her, etc.