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Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Coen Brothers Deliver a Comedic Tale About a Serious Man

A Serious Man: 4 Stars out of 5

Sy Abelman: Larry, everything's going to be fine.

A darkly comedic film from the Coen Brothers. That is not something new, but this film certainly casts a very bleak outlook on its main character throughout. Sharing qualities not since one of their earlier films, Barton Fink, this film combines bleakness, ambiguity, and subtle humor into a very, for the lack of a better term, Jewish film.

The film's lead character is Larry Gopnik, a physics professor living in 1967 Minnesota. He is married with two children. His son is soon to be having his Bar Mitzvah, although all he wants to do is smoke weed, watch F-Troop, and listen to Jefferson Airplane in Hebrew School. Larry's Daughter is stealing money from him for a nose job and seems to always want to wash her hair, which is a problem because of Larry's brother Arthur. Arthur seems to be freeloading, living on Larry's sofa as he delves into questionable activities during the day.

The real problems for Larry are soon to be packed on top of each other. His wife is planning to leave him for another man. A student, whom Larry failed, has attempted to bribe him for a passing grade, or sue him if he rats him out, which may also be threatening his chance at tenure. He is having issues with his neighbors, issues with a company on the phone, claiming that he owes money, issues involving lawyers that he needs for various things such as his divorce and his brother, and even issues involving the TV antenna.

Larry tries to seek advice from different rabbis, but the results only leave him more and more confused. It is not in Larry's character to react in any higher emotions than general concern, but his efforts at being a serious man are certainly being tested throughout.

I love the idea that the Coen's were given the chance to make a movie as obscure as this one. After Burn After Reading, which was packed with A-list stars and a much more audience friendly vibe, despite still having a very Coen feel to it and still being hilarious, this film features no big name stars (the biggest would be Richard KInd), and contains many elements that are sure to leave many people confused or dissatisfied if they are not familiar with the Coen Brother's style or expected something much more mainstream.

This film certainly continues the trend of the Coen's really pushing their characters around for the worse. Larry is very much a Job like character, with all his stacking problems. Add to that the Jewish tone of the film, with almost every character making Yiddish references and all the various interactions giving a feel similar to how much the same everyone's attitude was in Fargo. It’s that stylized quirk that the Coen's make work.

I really enjoyed Michael Stuhlbarg's performance as Larry here. He was cast just right, making the character work in such a way where he wasn't whiny or overplayed as his physics professor/meek demeanor may suggest. I quite enjoyed all of the actors here actually.

Then you have an ending, which for me, just worked. Its certainly handled in a way where some will walk out of the theater going, "what," but to me, just made the film even more interesting in the, "I will watch this again after I've thought about it for a while," kind of way.

The film certainly will not have the repeated draw like No Country, among other Coen works have, but it’s one of the more interesting films I've seen this year.
Sy Ableman: I think, really, the Jolly Roger is the appropriate course of action.

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