Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Serious Man: Joel and Ethan Coen

In quick succession the Coens have given us a multiple award-winning literary adaptation and a scrwball parody thriller, and with no sign of slacking are back with what feels like a more personal but no less playful new feature. After a gloriously lugubrious prequel, we enter the late 1960s and the resoundingly normal world of Larry Gopnik. Larry is a good husband and father, and a conscientious professor at a quiet Midwestern university. He always tries to do the fair and just thing in the face of life's temptations and trials. but one day, everything starts to go wrong. His wife leaves him for reasons she cannot explain, and her intolerably pompous new lover muscles in on the family and their home, convincing the already cash-strapped Larry to move into a motel. His career is put in jeopardy by a series of anonymous letters falsely accusing him of unspecified misdemeanours, and his unemployable brother is becoming more and more of a burden. Larry's attempts to find some equilibrium and be a righteous man in the face of all these vexations is the source of a great deal of droll humour, particularly acute in Larry's attempts to seek guidance from a succession of uninspiring or unavailable rabbis. Michael Stuhlbarg is unshowily excellent as Larry, and this wonderfully rounded and satisfying character study is classic Coens at their best.

MGP: The anecdotal pre-credit sequence was delightfully droll and established the right mood for what followed. Though set in the midwest of the USA, the emphasis was decidedly Jewish with the combination of wry resignation and humour that seems to be the stock-in-trade of Jewish comedians. The air of bewilderment which Michael Stuhlberg has throughout is the face of growing adversity and problems adds to the humour of the film. The smarmy, touchy-feely adulterer is truly vomit-worthy and the fact that he has done this only three years after his own wife died seems to be a matter of surprise. The vague vacillations of the rabbis and the ease with which they answer questions with either questions or non-sequitors adds to the increasing perplexity of the 'serious man'. The ending with the impending storm may or may not be allegorical.

1 comment:

pppatty said...

I'm pleased to see that this film has been fairly well-received by critics, since its subject matter is on many levels parochial to say the least. I still do not see it becoming a top favourite amongst the brothers' fans, but it is beginning to creep up in my own personal ratings of their movies.