Do Not Be Surprised If The Coens Go Back To Back Best Picture Wins With “A Serious Man”
There are dark comedies and then there is “A Serious Man”, the latest from directors/writers Joel and Ethan Coen. When it’s all said and done, you won’t know what just happened and if you should have been laughing while watching the life of this poor midwestern Jewish math professor go down in flames.
The movie ominously opens in what can be assumed is eastern Europe prior to World War II. A man invites what his wife believes to be a “dybbuk” (Yiddish for a dead spirit) into their home. After an unfortunate act of violence by the wife, the husband believes that their family will be cursed forever.
Then, we finally meet our “hero”, Larry Gopnik (Richard Stuhlbarg). Larry is dealing with an unfaithful wife, her creepy overly-huggy boyfriend, a pothead son, a blackmailing Korean, Jew-hating neighbors, and a cyst-draining deadbeat brother. Folks, this is just the beginning for Larry as his problems mount and grow in a way that borders on making “A Serious Man” a horror film of sorts.
To go into greater detail would completely ruin the deliciously brutal events that transpire in Larry’s life. The fact that I found these tragic events funny almost makes me question my own morality. It would be disturbing if I didn’t know that laughter is exactly what the Coens are going for here. That’s right, laugh at Larry as his wife’s lover Sy is too touchy with him. Laugh as he is bribed in an insane manner by a disgruntled Korean student. How do the Coens make it okay for us to laugh at tragedy?
“A Serious Man”, while not my favorite Coen Brothers film, will join the ranks of their best work ever. If someone told me they felt it was their best movie to date, I wouldn’t argue and, depending on the day, may wholeheartedly agree. It is beautiful to look at (thank God for Roger Deakins) and brilliantly written.
Of course, writing can be great but only be saved by great acting and “A Serious Man” is loaded with it. If there is any justice in the world, veteran stage actor Michael Stuhlbarg will have a Best Actor nomination coming his direction. He wears Larry’s agony all over his face and almost makes you want more travesty to come his way, just to see Stuhlbarg react to it.
On a personal note, there is one performance that I feel will be completely overlooked. While seeking religious enlightment, Larry meets with several rabbi. One of which is played by actor George Wyner. Wyner is probably best known as the attorney to the former Mrs. Irwin M. Fletcher. He tells a slowly-becoming-famous tale about a Jewish dentist that read a message on someone’s teeth. The sequence alone could win an editing Oscar for the Coens, but I truly believe that Wyner is so brilliant in this small part that he should be getting some Best Supporting Actor consideration.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I think that “A Serious Man” is brilliant. It’s definitely the best movie I have seen so far in 2009 and I cannot possibly recommend it more than by saying it could be the best movie made by Joel and Ethan Coen to date. That’s really the only way I can describe how fantastic this film is.