106 Min. | Comedy – Drama| November 2009
IMDB Rating: 7.0
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Staring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick
A Serious Man Review: The Coen brothers have developed critical acclaim for making black comedies/awkward tragedies that depict small-time people getting in way over their heads, who for one reason or another are motivated to do things out of the ordinary because the natural order of the world and society has wronged them in some way. “A Serious Man,” however, is about a man who doesn’t do anything, to whom bad/annoying things happen. This story of a confused suburban Jewish man in the ’60s wrestling with life’s meaning is therefore an important step in the evolution of the Coens’ theme-driven film-making. Borrowing on an autobiographical context (Minnesota, Judaism, etc.) for the brothers, it moves on to greater cosmic questions but with the same quirky and ironic spirit that have garnered the Coens all their deserved attention over the last 20 years.
Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is that one Coen brothers character in every movie you know, the innocent one who manages to suffer a seemingly unfair fate, only he gets to pilot A Serious Man. In that spirit, an unknown Stuhlbarg is cast in the lead. Larry is a mild-mannered math professor with a family in an ideal suburban home only his wife wants a divorce and his kids are nightmarish. Little by little the annoyances of his life pile up from the foreign student trying to bribe him for a passing grade while simultaneously suing him for defamation to his socially immature brother who won’t leave his house. Larry seeks answers from the rabbis in his community to understand the mess his life has suddenly become. Much like “Burn After Reading,” this film is one that makes a thematic point out of the audience’s attempt to squeeze meaning out of everything. Our desperate search for answers in both our lives and in A Serious Man, our tendency to over-analyze and derive reason from everything comes to a halt, the Coen bros.
“Serious Man” is one of their best in recent memory because it not only feels rooted and personal for them, but it moves toward a greater discussion of previously treaded upon themes and plots from their previous work. A Serious Man is a challenging film and those who have struggled with the Coen brothers before will struggle again, but for the cerebral and intellectual moviegoer it’s outstanding. The truth is, we don’t have all the answers to make sense of life’s events (or a story’s plot points) and neither do the Coen brothers. One insignificant character in the film who appears to have an answer to just one of Larry’s myriad of minor problems dies instantly with hysterical irony. Don’t go into “A Serious Man” looking for answers, go into it looking for a change of perspective.