Thursday, 19 November 2009


Now Showing
Universal Pictures

With the Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men and the fun Burn After Reading, the Coen brothers seem to have hit a creative purple patch. That streak continues with their latest, A Serious Man.

Set in 1967, A Serious Man is informed by if not exactly about the Coen brothers' childhood and being Jewish in mid-west America. Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg, who bares a passing resemblance to Joaquin Phoenix) is a physics professor hoping to make tenure. With a wife, two teenage kids and a house in the suburbs life is pretty good. Sure his recently widowed brother is sleeping on the couch and he doesn't necessarily like his goy neighbour, but hey.

And then his wife announces she wants a divorce, the first in a series of trials to befall Larry and testing his mettle if not his sanity. It doesn't help that the rabbis he consults don't give him much in the way of guidance or that Sy Abelman, the man his wife wants to leave him for, seems intent on killing him with kindness of a passive-aggressive variety. Complications with his brother as well as a desperate housewife neighbour only add to Larry's burdens.

Some reviews have compared Larry's plight to that of Job, but as it's 20 years since I attended Sunday school I have no idea what Job endured so can't make that call. But the Coens are definitely testing Larry, and as the problems mount, so does the humour; not in the silly way they did in Burn After Reading but in the absurd way life has a tendency to pile things on us. God never gives us more than we can handle, right?

The Coens are certainly giving us more than enough of late but a word of caution: don't go in expecting a film like either of their previous two. Yes, A Serious Man is a comedy but it's not of the Burn After Reading kind. Oh, and a tip: like No Country For Old Men, the film has a sudden ending so be prepared.

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