Film: A Serious Man
Cast includes: Michael Stuhlbarg (Ugly Betty), Fred Melamed (Hollywood Ending), Sari Lennick, Richard Kind (Spin City)
Writer/Director: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Genre: Comedy, satire
In brief: The year is 1967; the place is a Minneapolis suburb. When we first catch up with the Gopnik family, we find Danny surviving Hebrew class by secretly listening to Jefferson Airplane on his transistor radio… “Don’t you want somebody to love?” Danny’s bar mitzvah is just around the corner. What should be a time of nakhes (joy) turns out to be a time of tsurus (trouble)… especially for Larry, father of Danny and Sarah, husband of Judith, brother of Arthur and soon to be tenured professor of physics… if he doesn’t mess it up.
But God is testing Larry Gopnik… like God tested Job. Out of the blue, Judith announces, “Honey, I think it’s time we start talking about a divorce.” Sy Ableman has convinced Judith that she could be a better person without Larry. And there’s no “whoopsy-doopsie” going on! Now someone is sending anonymous letters to the tenure committee, saying that Larry’s been up to hanky-panky… or is that whoopsie-doopsie? That’s ridiculous! Larry is a serious man… isn’t he? He won’t even accept the envelope full of hundreds from a student seeking a passing grade. And why is Columbia Record Club harassing him for back dues? He did nothing. “That’s why you owe us money… because you did nothing.” Oy vey!
This is not a New York Jewish story. It’s a story about specific kinds of Jews… the Ashkenazi from Eastern Europe, who still have their shtetle (small village) heritage imbedded in their DNA… a heritage kept alive by the wonderful stories from the old country. The Coen brothers illustrate one of these “shaggy dog” stories in the beginning of the movie. Their modern-day version is told in a total deadpan style. There’s not an exclamation point in the entire movie… never a wink that says, “Yes, we know this is totally absurd.” It’s rigorously true to the form and spirit of the stories their grandparents would have told. While the Coen brothers are known for their deadpan, dark humor, this is their most personal film. It wonderfully illustrates the cultural heritage that influences their narrative style. And, for those of us who can relate… even just a little… it takes us home again.
4 popped kernels
Popped kernels for originality... loved the low key dark humor
Primary Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Appeal: Any audience
Distribution: Art house
Mood: Both upbeat and somber
Tempo: In no hurry
Visual Style: Nicely varnished realism
Character Development: Engaging
Social Significance: Thought provoking