.

A Serious Man

Michael Stuhlbarg

Directed by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 3.5
Community: star rating
5 3.5 0
October 1, 2009

The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, are getting personal. They shot their new film in suburban Minnesota, where they grew up as sons of Jewish academics. But if you're expecting something warm and fuzzy, circa 1967, you don't know the Coens, and A Serious Man is no country for you. This seriously funny movie, artfully photographed by the great Roger Deakins, is spiritual in nature, barbed in tone, and, oh, yeah, it stings like hell.

Front and center is Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor who's getting shit from every side. Unsigned letters to the dean question his ethics and threaten his tenure. His son, Danny (the excellent Aaronolff), days away from his bar mitzvah, is lost in a pot daze. His daughter, Sarah (Jessica McManus), is obsessed with getting a nose job. His unemployed brother, Arthur (a wonderfully kinky Richard Kind), is crashing on his couch. And his wife, Judith (a pitch-perfect Sari Lennick), is leaving him for slimy, silver-tongued Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), a serious man.

Larry is being tested like Job, with the Coens playing God and lobbing bolts at him, including a Jew-hating neighbor and a nude lady sunbather who stirs his libido. Larry's divorce lawyer (a deadpan Adam Arkin) warns him to expect the worst. So Larry seeks counsel and comfort from multiple rabbis, who deliver silence or cryptic bromides. Grace Slick, on the radio, gets closer to the point, singing, "When the truth is found to be lies/And all the joy within you dies/Don't you want somebody to love."

Indeed. No doubt the Coens will grin at accusations of stereotyping, self-loathing and box-office suicide. They march to their own mischievous drummer. Larry keeps asking, "Why me?" and stage actor Stuhlbarg, Tony-nominated for The Pillowman, is outstanding at showing the humanity that keeps the question urgent. Larry gets the worst of both worlds, sacred and secular. The film starts with a Yiddish-language prologue, set a century ago in Poland, in which a couple open their door to find a needy neighbor who may be a dybbuk (demon) in disguise. Larry is similarly bedeviled. But that sound you hear in this profane spellbinder is the Coens — chuckling in the dark.

prev
Movie Review Main Next

ADD A COMMENT

Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...

COMMENTS

Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    More Reviews »
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.

    X

    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “You Oughta Know”

    Alanis Morissette | 1995

    This blunt, bitter breakup song -- famous for its line "Would she go down on you in a theater?" -- was long rumored to be about Alanis Morissette getting dumped by Full House actor Dave Coulier. But while she never confirmed it was about him (Coulier himself says it is, however), she insisted the song wasn't all about scorn. "By no means is this record just a sexual, angry record," she told Rolling Stone. "The song wasn't written for the sake of revenge. It was written for the sake of release. I'm actually a pretty rational, calm person."

    More Song Stories entries »
    www.expandtheroom.com