A Serious Man (Review)

The Coen brothers look to their childhood in latest twisted comedy

Oct 30, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Larry Gopnick (Michael Stuhlbarg) wants somebody to love him, or at the very least he wants to know that God or whatever higher power in existence doesn’t have some ancient vendetta against him, because based on the comically tragic circumstances Larry finds himself enduring, it seems that he is at the very top of someone’s shit list. His wife Judith (Sari Lennick) is having an affair with one of their friends (Fred Melamed), while Larry’s tenure review is in jeopardy because a student is blackmailing him for a better grade. The resulting crisis of faith has sent him in search of answers from the three local rabbis who aren’t giving him much advice — or even the time of day.

The early humor found in this latest (and most personal) film from Joel and Ethan Coen is painted pitch black — black as the hair color of the true love Larry seeks. The narrative quest takes on suitably biblical overtones. Or, argued from a more intellectual and philosophical bent, the film is a serious exploration into the escalating random acts of tragedy heaped on one man.

In the past, the Coens have used noir and the crime milieu to address such fateful consequences, but here, in the everyday world of a 1967 Midwestern Jewish academic, the stakes couldn’t be higher because audiences will immediately realize that Larry’s Everyman wants the same answers as the rest of us, and the film seriously considers and delivers a stunningly measured response worthy of its Job-like subject. Grade: A

Opens Oct. 30. Check out theaters and show times, see more photos from the film and get theater details here.

Read Jason Gargano's interview with Joel and Ethan Coen here.