Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Serious Man

I’m writing this review three days after I’ve seen the movie, but it still feels too early. You see, A Serious Man isn’t a film bogged down by silly plot devices or Hollywood caricatures. No, the Coen brothers’ new dramedy is a genuine film propelled by a solid story. Not your typical, everything-spelled-out, mainstream mess.

And therein lies its beauty… or its problem, depending on who you talk to.

The film begins as philosophically as it ends. Which means, I don’t really think we’re supposed to take either at face value. Instead, examine what you see. Talk about it. What is its reference? Its point? My god how a love a good post-film chat.

Sorry, I guess I should tell you what it’s about.

Larry Gopnik is a regular man, with serious problems. His tenure as a physics professor is in question, even before getting blackmailed by a student. His wife is angry, even before wanting to leave him for his friend. His kids are full of angst, even before school troubles and unneeded nose jobs. His brother is lost, even before law troubles. His neighbor is spiteful, even before getting technical about property lines.

Nothing is going right. But why? Why can’t helpless Larry get advice from any of his Rabbis? Why is his wife’s lover so cool about everything? Why don’t his kids give a shit about anything? Why is this colossal shit-tornado happening to him at this exact point in time? I have no idea, and much to our delight, neither does Larry.

As Larry, stage actor Michael Stuhlbarg gives an Oscar-worthy, make-or-break performance. Never forcing too much or dismissing issues with a coy demeanor, Stuhlbarg plays Larry with much-recognized emotions. Regardless of who you are or where you live, you’d probably have the same dumbfounded expression and voice inflection that Stuhlbarg has through most of the film. He carries the movie on his shoulders, to great results.

Like most Coen films, the technical aspects are flawless. From veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins’ steely look, to Carter Burwell’s haunting score, to the period-appropriate costumes, everything fits like a corky, Coen glove.

Much has been made about the origin of the film, as it appears to be the only semi-autobiographical work the Coen’s have ever produced. That doesn’t really concern me. The fact that the Coen’s grew up in the 60s, in a small Minnesota town, raised by educator parents, in a strict Jewish home, doesn’t make me love or hate the film. Although I suppose it is interesting.

A Serious Man isn’t for everyone, but no Coen brother’s film is. I can’t promise that you’ll understand the whole thing, hell I can’t even promise that it’ll be in theatres next month. But if you’re remotely interested in the Coens’ work, you’re sure to enjoy Larry’s downfall.

A funny thing has happened while I’ve been writing this review; I’ve actually realized that I liked the film more than I thought. I love that. It’s one of the reasons I keep writing these. Mazel tov. A-


  1. I saw this one only recently. I didn't really like it while I was watching. But then it sort of crept up on me over the rest of the day and week. This isn't a highlight of the Coens' body of work, and it's sort of a simple film overall, but it has that something that stays with you.

    1. See, that is EXACTLY how I felt about it when I saw it, and I think I even mentioned that in my review. Thought it was okay while watching, but it didn't leave my mind. Groovy little flick.