Thursday, November 5, 2009

Taking A Serious Man Seriously

Odds are, if you were going to see the Coen brothers' A Serious Man, you would've already done so (it's been out in a limited release since early October). But I didn't see it until recently so I figured I'd put in my $.02. I should preface my post by saying that I'm not a blind follower of all things Coen brothers like many movie fans. They have definitely put out some good movies. O Brother, Where Art Thou? and No Country For Old Men were both great. Fargo and Intolerable Cruelty were decent. And The Big Lebowski is an all-time classic. But I wasn't really a fan of The Hudsucker Proxy, The Man Who Wasn't There, The Ladykillers, or Burn After Reading. And I honestly think they are slightly over hyped.

This being said, there is one constant through all their films. The Coen brothers know how to write some of the best dialogue you can find. And they don't just have one particular style. They have the ability to use dark and laconic language like that found in No Country as well as more playful, fast paced banter like that found in O Brother. They've actually won 3 Oscars for their screenplay efforts. But great dialogue can only take you so far. You need a good story and compelling characters -- two things I think the Coen brothers occasionally fail to develop. And that's why I'm sometimes not a fan.

A Serious Man falls under the "decent" category in this blogger's opinion. It's not a great movie, but I enjoyed it. It tells the story of Larry Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlarg -- think an older looking Elijah Woods that has the demeanor and delivery of most every Jason Bateman character ever), a Jewish physics professor in the late 1960's (approximately). He is also a pretty big pushover and going through a rough time in his life. His wife is divorcing him for another man, his brother's life is falling apart, and he's having money and work problems as well. Facing all this, he ponders his place in the world and why things are the way they are. He seeks advice in a variety of places -- his lawyer, his neighbor's wife, and different rabbi. And as the title suggests, it's probably their most "serious" and "grown up" movie to date. It focuses on real questions like faith and mortality, even when there aren't real answers.

The movie doesn't have much of a plot other than that. There are a couple of stories on the side involving Larry's son's bat mitzvah and a South Korean student trying to bribe Larry for better grades (which is actually pretty funny). I'm guessing many viewers will want more from the plot (which, as I said before, is often a problem with the Coen brothers' work) and will feel a little letdown by the ending. But Larry is a strong and compelling character, and his story is oddly engrossing even if it's not necessarily a great one.

Bottom line: I would say it's worth a watch. Any Coen brothers fan will obviously want to check it out. And those who aren't may want to give it a shot. (C+)

Here's the preview:

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