REVIEW: A SERIOUS MAN
“A Serious Man” is the story of an
ordinary man’s search for clarity in a universe where
Jefferson Airplane is on the radio and “F-Troop” is on TV.
It is 1967, and Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics
professor at a quiet Midwestern university, has just been
informed by his wife Judith (Sari Lennick) that she is
leaving him. She has fallen in love with one of his more
pompous colleagues, Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), who seems to
her a more substantial person than the feckless Larry.
Larry’s unemployable brother Arthur (Richard Kind) is
sleeping on the couch, his son Danny (Aaron Wolf) is a
discipline problem and a shirker at Hebrew school, and his
daughter Sarah (Jessica McManus) is filching money from his
wallet in order to save up for a nose job. While his wife
and Sy Ableman blithely make new domestic arrangements, and
his brother becomes more and more of a burden, an anonymous
hostile letter-writer is trying to sabotage Larry’s chances
for tenure at the university. Also, a graduate student seems
to be trying to bribe him for a passing grade while at the
same time threatening to sue him for defamation. Plus, the
beautiful woman next door torments him by sunbathing nude.
Struggling for equilibrium, Larry seeks advice from three
different rabbis. Can anyone help him cope with his
afflictions and become a righteous person – a mensch – a
REVIEW: The Coen brothers are at it again. You know, the Writers/Directors behind such movies as Burn After Reading, No Country for Old Men, Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty, and Fargo to name a few. You can note the impressive resume, right? Well their latest work is good but not as good as these others. I’ve seen all of the aforementioned films and they each have an element of excitement, intensity, suspense, and dare I say action as well. This latest project is lacking in all those categories. And yet, the movie is still pretty good. What it lacks it makes up for in heavy amounts of human drama and messed up scenarios. The Coens have a talent for taking everyday characters and placing them in inexplicable scenarios which is the main source of entertainment for their movies. Their films tend to be dark and serious, funny yet grounded, thrilling, and shocking too. This one has a lot of those same characteristics even though it lacks in action. One of the aspects I found to be very interesting was its insight in Jewish lifestyles and customs. Priscilla would have really enjoyed it. The story focuses on one particular Jew, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), who is forced to face many dilemmas that test his morality especially because he is a serious man. He wants to do the right thing but it seems like everything is happening to him. There are few characters from the big screen that get pushed around by life as much as poor Larry. “I didn’t do anything” is Larry’s recurring theme throughout the movie and it’s very true. What did he do to deserve the hand that he has been dealt? Or is it that he is simply cursed? Another of his themes is “what’s going on?” and you’ll be asking yourself that same question as you watch the movie.
There is a different perspective to life when you are on the rooftop of your house. It is quite amazing. One of the stronger aspects of this movie as it is with most Coen movies is the cinematography. The various camera shots, the lighting, the colors, the sets and décor all add tremendously to the effectiveness of the storytelling. The 60s look is well done without trying so hard. Even the soundtrack was subtle but very appropriate. Probably the most appropriate track is the unmistakable hit by Jefferson Airplane, Don’t You Want Somebody to Love. Even though the overall storyline was not very exciting, it was well laid out, down to earth, and realistic with a pinch of slight exaggeration. Another quality feature of this film was the acting. Pretty much the entire cast, which doesn’t really have any big names, contributed nicely via their excellent performances. Mr. Stuhlbarg is at the top of that list. He did a great job with this role full of hopelessness, confusion, and controlled frustration. He goes through a serious case of Murphy’s Law. I stumbled upon a very amusing moment during this movie. If you decide to see it and actually stay during the end credits, close to the very end of them where it normally states that no animals were harmed in the making of the movie you will learn that no Jews were harmed in the making of this movie. That is good to know. Speaking of endings, if you know the Coen style of movie making you will know that their endings sometimes have the power of putting a look of confusion on the viewer’s face. The side effect is an outward burst of “that’s it?!” Well, this is arguably their most powerful film in that regard.
By Cine Marcos
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