Review: A Serious Man

Lately I’ve been doing a review over the weekend. I was all set to do one yesterday as I was busy the previous day. Then I found out SpikeTV played all six Star Wars movies in chronological order. So, that’s my excuse. And yes, I watched every single one. That’s A LOT of Star Wars.

A Serious Man (2009)

Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, and Fred Melamed

Directed By: The Coen Brothers

Is there a fan-base any more rabid than those that follow the Coens? For me, they’re hit or miss. For every amazing Fargo there’s an underwhelming movie like The Ladykillers. Of course, if I tell a Coen fan that I failed to enjoy one of their movies, I would be told that essentially I wasn’t intelligent enough to “get it.” This honestly happened to me while discussing Burn After Reading. That’s really here nor there, though. Just an allusion I wanted to share which has no barring to what I think of this particular movie at all.

A Serious Man follows Lawrence Gopnik (Stuhlbarg), a Jewish physics professor in suburban Minnesota during the late 1960s. He seems like a nice enough guy, just going about life. This all changes one day and everything begins to fall apart around him quickly. One of his students tries to bribe Lawrence for a passing grade. His wife Judith (Sara Lennick) wants a divorce and is seeing a friend of the family named Sy (Melamed). His son is a pothead, his daughter is stealing money from him, and his brother Arthur (Kind) is a leech that has done nothing with his life.

Lawrence is a good hearted human being, albeit a spineless one. He simply doesn’t understand what’s going on around him or what he’s done to deserve it all. He is blindsided by it all. Everyone walks all over him. His son only wants him around to fix the television antenna on the roof (the daughter is rarely around). His wife and her new guy make Lawrence move out of his own home. Worst yet, Sy tries to be completely understanding and helpful. It doesn’t help when the three rabbis Lawrence tries to consult offer no help or wisdom at all.

It’s difficult to get into the plot without giving too much away. Let’s just say that it just gets worse and worse. The hardest part about A Serious Man is that the characters are just so unlikable. Walking in Lawrence’s shoes is pure hell. You just want to scream for him to stand up for himself. He does try to from time to time, but each attempt is ignored. I think a lot of people equate unlikable characters to be “realistic.” I don’t happen to agree with this at all. Another problem I had is the term “black comedy” that is applied to this film. It’s not a comedy at all, although there are humorous bits. This is a drama pure and simple.

This is an obvious take on the Biblical story of Job. You know the story, a good man falls upon hard times during a bit of a duel between God and Satan. Lawrence is clearly acting the part of Job here. His occupation (at least his would-be tenure status) comes into question. His family falls apart in a blink of an eye. He’s forced out of his own home. Along the way, there is temptation. There’s the bribe he receives early on in the film. There’s the sexy next door neighbor that he sees during the divorce. During it all, he stays true to his principals and things appear to get better. Or do they?

As with all the Coen movies, this is an extremely well made film and is ambiguous. Do the events at the end happen due to Lawrence’s actions (or lack of action)? Or do was it all going to happen anyway? That’s up to the viewer to decide. While nearly ever character isn’t one you wouldn’t want to hang out with, the acting is top notch. Melamed’s Sy is just someone you love to hate. You can’t believe he’s serious at all. The lead is, of course, Stuhlbarg. This is quite a turn he provides. His Lawrence is a good person which makes the events and people around him so much tougher to bear.

Bottom Line: If it seems like I’m giving the movie good marks, but not overly glowing about it, that is my intention. A Serious Man is a well-made and well acted movie. However, this is supposed to be a comedy of some sort, but aside from a few really great scenes, it’s not very funny at all. It ultimately fails to be overly entertaining and, despite what some may tell you, not extremely thought provoking, either. The Coens have done much, much better.

I know I know. I didn’t really like it, so I’m too stupid to understand it. Got it. Thanks.

6/10 (VERY Slightly Recommended).

6 thoughts on “Review: A Serious Man”

  1. I like the honesty in this review. You reiterate that it’s a techincally good film, but that you didn’t care for it. I would like to hear more about the conversation you had about Burn After Reading. It might enligten me, since apparently I didn’t get it.

    1. Well, as I stated before, the Coen fans tend to be out there a bit. If you say anything bad about any of the movies, they’re all over you.

      Burn After Reading. It was simply a stupid movie. Nothing more, nothing less. I told someone this much and I got the, “well, you aren’t intelligent enough to get it” argument. this coming from someone I didn’t know, mind you. I look at message boards, I’ve found a lot of the more outspoken fans are like this. I think it’s crazy.

      The best part of BAR? JK Simmons’ character. He’s us and is saying what we’re thinking. It was two hours of “wtf?” scenes, one after the other. He ends the movie summarizing the events, completely astonished of what happened. Which again, exactly how I was feeling.

  2. Another case where marketing hurts a movie. They use the “comedy” routine because it might appeal to a wider audience, and look what happens. But such is movies. I still want to see this though. Go in knowing it’s a drama and maybe I’ll like it.

    P.S: You’re only allowed to have one opinion on the internet, and it has to be the popular one.

    1. Well, I’m not sure it was marketed as a comedy…frankly, I’m not sure how it was marketed. I never saw a thing about it (sucks living in the middle of squaresville). Some people found this hilarious. I frankly missed most of the humor…besides the main character’s bewilderment while sitting with individual rabbis, each telling some asinine allusion or story. THAT was funny. Everything else? Not so much.

  3. My main problem with the movie was that i was waiting for him to react to all the shit piled on him. Things keep getting worse and worse and he does nothing. I suppose that’s the character, but i’d have liked to have seen him erupt!

    1. You and me both. His form of erupting was raising his voice…as everyone around ignored him yet again. I suppose that’s the point: life spiraling out of control leaving him without a say in the matter. Meh. Whatever. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

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