A Serious Man : Coen Brothers Make Misery Humorous On Film.

Dying to get a peek at life in a Midwestern Jewish community during the 1960s? Look no further than "A Serious Man" the new film from auteurs Joel and Ethan Coen. Tony-nominated Broadway actor Michael Stuhlbarg plays Larry Gopnik in his first leading film role. Larry is a physics professor at the local college (the town itself is never named) whose life is beginning to unravel.


His wife (Sari Lennick) asks for a divorce when nothing appears to be wrong with their marriage - he pleads "But we're not doing anything!" - But soon enough her and her new boyfriend (Fred Melamed) are asking Larry to move to the local motel. Larry's irresponsible brother (Richard Kind) continues to sleep on his couch, constantly holding up the bathroom from Larry's teenage daughter who is attempting to save up enough money (anyway she can - including stealing from Larry's wallet) for a nose job.

 While his son, about to have his Bar Mitzvah, is more interested in scoring pot and ordering new LPs with his father's money.

Larry waits to see rabbis to help him sort his life out, but is having a tough time coping as things continue to go wrong for him (that's right, more bad stuff does happen to this poor man). The film's official website even includes a quote from Ethan Coen: "The fun of the story for us was inventing new ways to torture Larry."

Now this all sounds very grim, and it is, but let me remind you we're seeing this in the eyes of the Coen Brothers, who have themselves said that this is a story that reflects the type of place they grew up in, with many of the characters based on people that they knew. So their signature brand of very quirky and often very painful humor is very much present.

I'm still trying to work out exactly what the whole thing meant and where certain story threads were heading, and like the Coen's 2007 Oscar-winner "No Country for Old Men," the ending of "A Serious Man" may leave some viewers wanting more. But it's in some ways nice to know that not every movie will send you out of the theater certain of everything that just took place and what it meant. It is an interesting slice of a life, which, depending on our own backgrounds, we may not be familiar with, and it's sometimes very funny (one dream sequence in particular had me close to hysterics - you'll know the one I mean).

This is a movie you'll likely need to think about, I certainly did and perhaps more than one viewing will be necessary.

On a technical level, it's certainly competent as it should be, and the cast of relative unknowns is more than solid. In short, coming from two of my favorite filmmakers, this doesn't rank among my favorites of theirs, but it's something that's going to be on my mind for a while, and I do plan on seeing it again.

"A Serious Man" has been rated R, runs 105 minutes, and is now in art-house theaters nationwide.