Movie Review Rewind: A Serious Man (2009)

Ethan Coen is going solo with Drive Away Dolls, out this week, so Brandon pulls a little Coen Brothers out of the vault with 2009's 'A Serious Man' on today's Movie Review Rewind.

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The Coen brothers go back to their roots in A Serious Man. Supposedly, this film is a little personal for the brothers. They grew up Jewish in Minnesota, in the suburbs in the 1960s. Now I do not know how much of the story is based on their life, but there has to be a little part of them in this film and what they saw when they were young. This film has no big names at all. Perhaps a face you may recall but no Hollywood headliners. But that does not mean the performances in this film are not good because they are, especially Michael Stuhlbarg. He plays Larry Gopnik, a man who tries to live the right way. He lives by the Jewish faith and wants to be a good husband and father. Larry is a physics teacher at a university and is close to his tenure. Everything seems to be going fine, but that is all about to change. Before he knows it, his wife wants a divorce and even worse she wants to marry Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed). His wife describes Sy as a “serious” man and apparently Larry is not. And Larry does not understand any of it.

On top of his wife wanting a divorce out of the blue, his brother (Richard Kind) lives with him and he has no job and does not plan on getting one any time soon. And to make matters worse, someone is trying to sabotage his opportunity for tenure. Things are not looking good for Larry. So he decides to see three different rabbis, but whether they can provide any helpful information remains a mystery even after the film is over.

The Coens are talented directors. We all know this I’m sure. but this film has a limited audience with a story that will not win over as many people as No Country for Old Men or Burn After Reading. Personally, I like those two films better than this one. However, this did surprise me because it is entertaining and witty. It is not hilarious or laugh-out-loud, but Coens bring their brand of humor with the delivery of its sharp dialogue.

A Serious Man almost seems to be a film the Coens wanted to make and enjoy – never once caring if anyone else gets it. They have that right I suppose. But I am giving the impression that I did not like this film and that’s not true at all. Like I said, it is witty, entertaining, and the performances are fantastic.

This is the first time I have ever seen Stuhlbarg in a film, but it won’t be the last. He plays a man whose life is falling apart all around him and he has not done anything wrong. So that leaves the question of “Why Me?” “What have I done to deserve this?” The only answer to that question may involve the opening scene that deals with a curse, but I’m not quite sure if it’s even an answer at all. One thing that will probably throw some people off is the ending of A Serious Man. After No Country for Old Men, most people know how the Coens can be with their endings, and it’s the same for this film. It ends abruptly and you only fear the worse for these characters. That is all I’m really going to say about the conclusion but you have been warned.

A Serious Man will not be as popular as No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, and other films that the Coens are well-known for. But this film is just as well-crafted as any other Coens film, and though its story may not connect with everyone you should still see it. Be prepared for an ending you may not expect, however, do expect a unique story that mixes the Jewish faith and a person’s luck together to make a film full of humor and great acting.

The Coen brothers get back to basics by telling a story about events that occur in one’s life and the choices you make.  It is the journey of a man who seemed to have his life all together, but it came crashing down in a blink of an eye. I appreciate what the film and the filmmakers tried to do. And what they did was make a film that tells its own original story about a normal guy trying to live a normal life.

Brandon Vick is a member of The Music City Film Critics’ Association and the Southeastern Film Critics Association, the resident film critic of the SoBros Network, and the star of The Vick’s Flicks Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @SirBrandonV and be sure to search #VicksFlicks for all of his latest movie reviews.

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