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A Serious Man movie poster

A Serious Man: Movie Review

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rated: R
Directed by:
Joel & Ethan Coen
Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Simon Helberg, Sari Lennick, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff, Jessica McManus
Released by: Film in Focus

In Short: The Coen brothers return with a personal film that starts slow but finally hits its stride by the time the credits roll.
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The Coens Get Personal with Mixed Results

When Joel and Ethan Coen set out to make a film that reflected on their childhood experience of growing up as Jewish kids in Minnesota, they forgot one key element of cinematic storytelling - that of making the tale an interesting one to witness. A Serious Man eventually becomes engaging in the second half of the movie, but the deathly boring narrative of the first hour is a tough road to travel.

And honestly, the temptation to either take a nap or walk out of the theater was hard to resist as the film unspooled, following physics professor Larry Gopnik (Broadway actor Michael Stuhlbarg) as his well-ordered 1960's life begins to unravel. As the first act plays out, Larry's got some serious problems. His wife announces she is leaving him for another man, his about-to-be-bar-mitzvahed son is smoking pot and ignoring his Hebrew studies, his teenage daughter is out of control, and he's up for tenure, but it doesn't look too good for that actually happening.

Michael Stuhlbarg and Richard Kind in A Serious Man Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man

Add in his meshugganah brother who's sleeping on the family's couch, a dysfunctional anti-Semitic neighbor, and an assortment of rabbis that cannot seem to give Larry any sort of help with his laundry list of problems, and this guy's life cannot get any worse. Or can it?

In a story reminiscent of the Book of Job in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, it can and does get worse for Gopnik as the movie progresses. Happily, the second half of the movie begins to tap into what the Coens do so well, focusing on the absurdity of life and our inability to control events, and culminating in a funny and ironic ending that makes the doldrums of the first half worth sitting through for the payoff.

A Serious Man is, however, one of the Coens' more minor works, more reminiscent of The Man Who Wasn’t There than No Country for Old Men or Fargo. In other words, A Serious Man is sadly not one of the cinematic masterpieces we’ve come to expect (and adore) from this supremely talented pair of multiple Oscar-winning brothers.

Reviewed by Jenny Peters

PAR09709 Updated: (09/25/09 AR)

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