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Overall Rating
4.58

Awesome71.05%
Worth A Look: 23.68%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 2.63%
Total Crap: 2.63%

4 reviews, 14 user ratings



Serious Man, A
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by William Goss

"High Holy Anxiety"
5 stars

SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2009: Hey, did you ever hear the one about the Jewish physics professor, his cheating wife, his pot-struck son, his nagging daughter, his meddlesome brother, his naked neighbor, his looming tenure and the rabbi who wouldn’t take any of his calls?

No? Well, long story short, the punchline is “Accept the mystery,” and those cheeky Coen Brothers admit as much about forty minutes into A Serious Man, their latest and most strangely moving comedy. It’s a great little line, very funny in its immediate context and very helpful in explaining the why’s and how’s of the trials and tribulations that poor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) has encountered and will encounter yet. Those three little words are the Coens admitting that, even when they’re playing God, they can’t entirely justify His whims. Who can? Larry sure can’t.

And what a sad sack Stuhlbarg plays. His eyebrows alone are wonders of woe and frustration and confusion. What has he done to merit all the adultery and blackmail and calls from the Columbia Record Club? As he insists time and time again, he hasn’t done anything, though maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe if he’d listened to his wife (Sari Lennick), she wouldn’t have fallen into the arms of Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed, a man whose mere voice is as much a supporting character as Stuhlbarg’s eyebrows). Maybe if he’d played more catch with his son (Aaron Wolff), said son wouldn’t be toking up and owing money to neighborhood bullies in the weeks leading up to his bar mitzvah. Maybe if he'd lent more careful attention to the extracurricular pursuits of his brother Arthur (Richard Kind), the cops wouldn’t be knocking at their door. And maybe if Larry weren’t so concerned with all those mathematical proofs on paper, his terrifically uncertain life wouldn’t be spiraling quite this out of control.

But what does that have to do with the Yiddish prologue set far earlier? Or with the modern-day tale of the goy’s teeth? One says that bad things sometimes happen to good people; the other, that maybe God’s ways are mysterious for a reason. Accept it. Is there even a God, though, or does He just have a passive-aggressive streak against Larry? Can a pop song carry more significance than the entire Torah? How about a parking lot? A Serious Man is full of questions, and people with questions, and people who don’t have any answers. Accept the mystery, and the laughs will come. Accept the laughs, and the tears might wait.

The Coens, as can be expected, nail the time and place of 1967 Minnesota with impeccable production design and remarkable sound work (just listen for the squeak of each and every chair), while Carter Burwell’s score is a considerably more tempered and melancholy variation on his ominous Burn After Reading themes. Although this film would seem to maintains the nihilistic tone and sense of weary resignation that infused both Reading and No Country for Old Men before that, I do think that ASM boasts maybe the slimmest silver lining yet around this darkest of clouds: the idea that, even when you’re miserable and alone, there’s somebody else out there – whether they be named Larry, Arthur, Ethan or Joel – who is just as miserable as you, if not more so, and just as lonely as you, if not lonelier, and if they could see your movie, they’d probably laugh at it too, if not harder.

That’s not a Jewish thing, my friends. That’s human nature.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=18379&reviewer=409
originally posted: 10/09/09 01:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/14/15 reveiwmanmyster another dissapointment movie 1 stars
6/08/13 PAUL SHORTT SUPERBLY ENGROSSING DARK COMEDY 4 stars
4/30/13 Dave Getz a great work of art in every way 5 stars
4/03/11 MP Bartley Laughed long and hard. 4 stars
2/21/11 Simon A mysterious movie about being ok with mystery. Your choice to be frustrated or accepting 5 stars
8/12/10 Jon Worthy of purchase -- and I hardly *ever* say that about a film 5 stars
5/31/10 Katie The Coen brothers at their best 5 stars
5/11/10 The Stick that Slaps I found it to be quite a load of "Krep"-lach... 2 stars
3/05/10 Sevarian microcosms within macrocosms 5 stars
2/28/10 Alan Delman Rich in content and questions without answers 5 stars
2/28/10 Alan Delman Rich in content and questions without answers 5 stars
1/20/10 Andrew Shearer Without question one of 2009's greatest films. Thanks for mentioning "Barton Fink"! 5 stars
12/18/09 david film of the decade. 5 stars
10/22/09 Mark100 Task: Sign the zone file. , 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  02-Oct-2009 (R)
  DVD: 09-Feb-2010

UK
  N/A

Australia
  02-Oct-2009
  DVD: 09-Feb-2010


Directed by
  Joel Coen
  Ethan Coen

Written by
  Joel Coen
  Ethan Coen

Cast
  Michael Stuhlbarg
  Sari Lennick
  Fred Melamed
  Richard Kind
  Aaron Wolff
  Jessica McManus



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