A Serious Man
|Director:||Ethan Coen, Joel Coen|
Academy Award®-winning directors Joel and Ethan Coen return to their comedy roots with this original and darkly humorous story about one ordinary man’s quest to become a serious man.
Physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) can’t believe his life: His wife is leaving him for his best friend, his unemployed brother won’t move off the couch, someone is threatening his career, his kids are a mystery and his neighbor is tormenting him by sunbathing nude. Struggling to make sense of it all, Larry consults three different rabbis and their answers lead him on a twisted journey of faith, family, delinquent behavior and mortality in the film critics rave is “seriously awesome!” (Michael Hogan, Vanity Fair)
Joel and Ethan Coen make movies like nobody else’s, but even by their standards A Serious Man is in a class by itself: a complete original that’s one of the brothers’ best. After a deeply weird Yiddish folk-tale prologue set in 19th-century Poland (and framed in the old 1.33:1 format), the picture shifts to the region and era of the Coens’ own upbringing, a Minneapolis suburb in 1967. Larry Gopnik (a superbly concentrated portrait in comic anguish by Michael Stuhlbarg) is a college physics prof facing a welter of crises and distractions: review by the tenure committee, son Danny’s bar mitzvah, a cryptic-verging-on-sinister protest from a Korean-American student, the alienation of wife Judith’s affections by widower Sy Ableman, the ongoing encroachment of brother Arthur and his sebaceous cyst—and don’t even mention the proto-Nazi who lives next door. All these, and more, form a screenplay of such intricacy that the blackly comic tensions of one shaggy-dog narrative strand leap synapse-like to another; the movie becomes a symphony of metaphysical dread. Working again with world-class cameraman Roger Deakins and editing, as always, under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes, the Coens maintain impeccable control over the movie’s look and timing. This is more crucial than ever, given that in the precarious universe they define, “actions have consequences.” Then again, so does nonaction; not ordering “the monthly main selection” from the Columbia Record Club means you’ve ordered it. The main-title credits almost flaunt the fact that most of the cast members will be unfamiliar to us (though they all deliver); best known are Richard Kind as Arthur, Adam Arkin as Larry’s divorce lawyer, and Michael Lerner (the studio boss in Barton Fink) doing a hilarious, wordless cameo as Solomon Schlutz. Special praise is due Fred Melamed, seizing the role of a lifetime as the unctuous Sy Ableman; Amy Landecker as Mrs. Samsky, the multifariously zoned-out siren who’s Larry’s other next-door neighbor; and Ari Hoptman as Arlen, Larry’s mealy-mouthed academic colleague who can’t resist hinting at the latest rumblings from the tenure committee, even if he can’t really say anything. —Richard T. Jameson