This was originally posted in my 2009 Toronto Film Festival Recap. The review has been fixed up and re-posted as the film will finally was released in theatres today.
A Serious Man
After last year’s misstep, Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers find themselves back on track with A Serious Man. Set in Jewish suburbs of Minnesota in 1967, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) tries hard to live a good and upstanding Jewish life. Despites his best efforts to a “serious man”, Larry cannot seem to stop this downward spiral he seems to have found himself in. His wife (Sari Lennick) has fallen in love with another man and wants Larry to grant her a religious divorce so she can remarry within the faith. Larry’s children only talk to him when they want money or the television fixed. To make matters worse, Larry’s application for tenure at the University is in jeopardy due to a series of mysterious and damaging letters that have suddenly appeared. Looking for guidance, Larry does what any “serious man” would do…seek counsel from the elusive Rabbi Nachtner (George Wyner).
Due to the underlying bleak tone, and the abrupt ending, A Serious Man is bound to divide audiences. Personally I loved the film, as it was a funny commentary on faith and human nature. Larry does all the right things and his life gets worse by the day; whereas everyone else is committing sinful deeds and seemingly living well. Even the religious leaders, who are the most “serious men” of all, are merely going through the motions. All of the various Rabbis in the picture are quick to provide random stories and rhetoric yet none of them can apply the tales to the actual matter at hand. The performances in this film are fantastic even the bit players provided wonderful moments. Stuhlbarg is by far the standout though. Stuhlbarg brings so much comedic subtly to the role that it is easy to miss upon first glance. As I mentioned before the ending will rub many the wrong way, but I found it rather fitting when looking back at the overall themes of the film.
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