A physics teacher's life begins to unravel after a series of
incidents, and he tries his best to find meaning in all of it.
A Serious Man (2009)
Written and Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed,
Sari Lennick, Aaron Wolff, Jessica McManus, Adam Arkin
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay
I consider myself an above average fan of the Coen Brothers. Their films stand out in ways that most directors can only dream of doing. As of this review, I've seen all but two of their films, and I've crossed one of those off with A Serious Man, quite possibly their strangest film to date. Led by a career-defining subtle performance from Michael Stuhlbarg, this film sees a Jewish teacher's life fall completely apart as he struggles to find meaning in everything that's happening to him. It's got that Coen flavor, and the performances are flawless. But I wouldn't use this film to introduce anyone to the Coens' work. This one is for longtime aficionados only.
Stuhlbarg is Larry Gopnik, a depressed teacher going through a messy divorce where his wife is holding all the cards. On top of that, his kids are out of control. On top of that, he's up for tenure at work but things keep threatening that. On top of that, his brother (Richard Kind) has a gambling problem and won't move out. So, things are bad. Stuhlbarg plays Larry as such a sad sack of a guy, someone who life keeps swiftly kicking in the balls at every given opportunity. But he keeps his shit together. And that's what matters. The story of this movie, like most Coen films, is a little odd but unforgettable. The ending, like most Coen films, is somewhat philosophical and will require multiple viewings to fully understand.
A Serious Man may not be the Coens' masterpiece, but it's a mesmerizing look at depression and the dawning of a mid-life crisis. There's a ton of Jewish symbolism throughout, particularly in the weird little short that opens the film. In this film, we get to see a man at his wit's end get pushed even further, so far beyond the breaking point for most people. And even in the last ten minutes of the film, with its devastating final kick, you get the feeling that Larry is gonna find his way back from that too.