Directors with cult followings, like John Waters or Ed Wood, have them because their audience can see any of their films and come away with the same experience. The Coen brothers have somewhat of a cult following, but for totally different reasons. Their movies are varied, ranging from \Blood Simple"" to ""Raising Arizona"" to ""Fargo,"" and anyone going to see ""O Brother, Where Art Thou?"" expecting to see another ""Big Lebowski"" is in for a surprise.
The surprise is that the movie is only thoroughly enjoyable, not amazing. ""Brother"" doesn't attempt the wild abandon of its predecessor. Instead, the humor is calmer and more subtle. It involves wordplay as much as it does absurdity, like when a gubernatorial candidate says he's the candidate for ""the little people.""
This light-hearted humor works even better because of its contrast against the Depression-era South. George Clooney, Nick Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson escape a chain gang only to be chased by the cops, the Ku Klux Klan and possibly the Devil. It does not sound like a carefree comedy, but every single character, including John Goodman's, Holly Hunter's and Charles Durning's, is so absurd that they uplift the entire film.
On another note, rumors of the movie's roots in The Odyssey have been greatly exaggerated. The few references that do exist are very general, like Goodman having one eye or Clooney disguising himself as an old man. That generality might open it up to a larger, less Hellenistic audience, but the Coen brothers and Clooney should stop bragging about their classical inspiration.