Sunday, February 4, 2018

Movie Review: "A Serious Man" (2009)

Year Nominated: 2010
Director: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hours, 46 minutes
Did It Win?: No.

The life of a college professor starts to fall apart just as he is up for tenure.

We really love the Coen Brothers. They have directed some of our favorite movies, including "Fargo," "No Country for Old Men," and "The Big Lebowski," which is one of my all-time favorites. Needless to say, we had high hopes for Joel and Ethan Coen's Oscar-nominated "A Serious Man" when we first watched it. At the time, it definitely disappointed us, so we decided to give it a second chance to see if our opinion had changed nearly a decade later. "A Serious Man" stars Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik, a college physics professor who is up for tenure. As if this stressful moment on the horizon weren't enough, his life starts to fall apart in many other ways. His wife wants to leave him for another man, a student is trying to bribe him for a better grade, his brother keeps getting in trouble with the law, his neighbor is encroaching on his property line, and it is all costing him a fortune in legal fees. Larry is desperate to find meaning in it all, but it starts to drive him further and further off the edge. He questions not only his place in the world but his sanity and most importantly, his faith.

This film isn't so much a story as it is an exploration of a chaotic moment in time based on a series of events that happen in one man's life. We do struggle to see the point of it all beyond "shit happens," and it is best not to look for meaning in it. There is a lot to like about "A Serious Man." It is loaded with the interesting visual style the Coen Brothers are known for, and considering the cinematographer on this project is none other than Roger Deakins, we can't say we're surprised that it looks as brilliant as it does. We have been more familiar with Michael Stuhlbarg recently as he has become one of the best working characters actors in the past few years. We didn't even remember he was the lead in this movie, but as always, he gives a tremendous performance as Larry Gopnik. Since this is a Coen brother affair, it's only natural that there is an occasional laugh derived from dark humor found within the story. Unfortunately, there is also a lot to dislike about this film, too. The story is full of a lot of unlikable, self-centered characters who regularly trample all over the film's often spineless and perpetually confused protagonist. The movie is also an overabundance of Jewish stereotypes rolled into a single film. It feels much longer than it actually is because it never really feels like it's going anywhere. Where some will see cerebral maturity and honesty, we merely saw pretention and simplicity.

We have a feeling that at its core, "A Serious Man" is a very roundabout way of expressing the age-old saying "when it rains, it pours." So, did our opinion about this movie change in a decade? In some ways, it did. We have a much greater appreciation for the technique and craftsmanship that went into making this film, and we love the artistic expression of the final product put on screen. That being said, we still didn't entirely enjoy watching this and wouldn't really have the desire to give it a third go around in the future.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 5.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 90%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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