Rated R for language, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence, 105 minutes
More dark comedy from the Coen's with "A Serious Man"
Joel and Ethan Coen have made some seriously dark comedic films over the years, including "Raising Arizona" and "Fargo" (in my estimation two of their best films), and "A Serious Man" fits perfectly into their repertoire. This film is black comedy with a Jewish flavor and a higher brow than normal, peppered with some darkly amusing moments. The uneven, very leisurely paced "A Serious Man" isn't their best but is well-written with enough memorable moments to keep it in the upper echelon of Coen Brothers films.
Set in the midwest in the 1960's, "A Serious Man" concerns Larry Gopnik (stage actor Michael Stuhlbarg, in a breakthrough film performance), a math professor at a suburban community college whose life is clearly unraveling. His wife Judith (Sari Lennick) is leaving him for a pompous older acquaintance named Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed) mainly due to the fact that his inept, dense brother Arthur (Richard Kind, nearly stealing the movie) won't move out.
Meanwhile, an anonymous, vicious letter writer is threatening his chances at tenure at the university, while the attractive next door neighbor Mrs. Samsky (Amy Landecker) tempts him by sunbathing nude, and his reckless son Danny (Aaron Wolf) is a discipline problem. Larry attempts to get help by going to three different rabbi's, who don't help much. Can anyone help him cope with his afflictions and become a righteous person -- a mensch -- a serious man?
"A Serious Man," unlike some of the Coen's other efforts, is a dark dramedy, a mixture of serious with the comedic with several layers. One hallmark of the Coen's are well-written, well-developed characters, which are found here as well in abundance. Unlike their other efforts, this is one far more leisurely, far more talky and doesn't feature any big name actors, just a handful of character actors whose faces you may recognize. Tony-nominated actor Stulhbarg admirably carries the film in an excellent performance as the put-upon Larry that will rightfully earn him accolades.
The Coen's uneven, slow pacing isn't helpful in managing all the different subplots, another Coen trademark that doesn't work as well here. But there are still many memorable scenes and fun, ongoing jokes (one about the Columbia Record Club is amusing), and the scenes with the rabbi's are eventful as well. The prologue is a downright odd one and it takes a little time to get things going, but once you get in, you'll be hooked down to the humorous, well-handled finale.
"A Serious Man" isn't in the league of the aforementioned classic films "Fargo" or "Raising Arizona" but still a treat and recommended viewing.