Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Serious Man (***)

A Serious Man. 105 mins. R. Written and Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen. Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, and Amy Landecker.

The big story behind A Serious Man, the latest film from the Coen Brothers, is that it's their most personal movie to date. That doesn't necessarily mean it's their best. A Serious Man is a step down from last year's very funny, star-studded Burn After Reading and six degrees removed from the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men. Theater actor Michael Stuhlbarg plays Larry Gopnik, a suburban Jewish man in the 1960s dealing with a handful of crises which all seem to be coming to a head. His estranged wife wants a "Get" - some Jewish form of divorce; his son is constantly on the run from a school bully to whom he owes money; his wack job brother (Richard Kind) is sleeping on his couch; and he's getting blackmailed at work on the eve of getting tenure. This being a Coen Brothers movie and all, there are a handful of absurdly hilarious moments and some cleverly written exchanges of dialogue, but the movie never really achieves liftoff and hovers around the same serio-comic stasis that plagued their arty hit-and-miss The Man Who Wasn't There back in '01. Stuhlbarg is good, and the scenes between him and one of his students bribing for a better grade are immensely enjoyable. The ending is a bit abrupt and doesn't really leave you with a fond impression, but no film fan can ignore a Coen Brothers movie, and A Serious Man is no exception.

- John


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