Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Serious Man (2009)

Movie quotes:
Clive Park: Very difficult... very difficult...
Larry Gopnik: Well, I... I'm sorry, but I... what do you propose?
Clive Park: Passing grade.
Larry Gopnik: No no, I...
Clive Park: Or perhaps I can take the mid-term again. Now I know it covers mathematics.
Larry Gopnik: Well, the other students wouldn't like that, would they, if one student gets to retake the test till he gets a grade he likes?
Clive Park: Secret test.
Larry Gopnik: No, I'm afraid...
Clive Park: Hush-hush.

"That's right, things aren't so bad. Look at the parking lot, Larry. Just look at that parking lot."
- Rabbi Scott

At a glance:
A Serious Man, another original entry in the Coen Brother’s oeuvre, uses black humor to prove the futility of contemplating the meaning of your life

Our review (with spoilers):
Larry (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a serious man, and his life is about to unravel, much to his surprise. His tenure is jeopardized by a student who offers him a bribe, and by anonymous letters written to the tenure committee. His wife informs him that things have not been good for some time, and, of course, she has developed a friendship and a bit more with Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed). It’s only logical that Larry move out so as not to disrupt the lives of the two children, one of whom, Danny (Aaron Wolff) is about to be barmitzvahed. Normally, it would be fortunate to be having these kinds of problems and to be Jewish as well, for the Jews can turn to their strong communal faith, and to the shared wisdoms of their rabbis, for guidance (although in this case, the only help Larry receives from his rabbis is in the form of obscure metaphors about parking lots, or unrelated anecdotes about goy teeth.

The Coen brothers have created a wonderful anti-Hollywood movie. Unconcerned with the narrative or with any kind of standard, expected beginning, middle or end, they instead lead you on a journey through a slice of life / collection of vignettes. Some of the best parts of the journey are populated by the lovely, softly deep, mesmerizing voice of Melamed. And, as usual, the Coens have assembled an unusual looking and unusually talented cast of actors (another standout is Sari Lennick as Larry’s wife Judith).

There’s a higher level of accessibility to this Coen Brothers' offering. We can all relate to how that unpredictable thing called life throws random events at us and tasks us to deal with them as best we can – which sometimes is not very well.

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"If there is a moral to this story, it is that trying to make sense of life is a foolish endeavor doomed to failure."
- Robert Roten (Laramie Movie Scope)

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