A Serious Man (15)

While staring at the weirdest ending sequence since the Coen’s last outing Burn After Reading, I had to take a deep breath and have a real hard think about how you would start writing a review for this one! A Serious Man is undeniable proof of how well refined and smart but also how bleak and weird their work is becoming. It follows the Coen’s usual trademarks of human buffoonery and wacky humour and flows within the same vein as Burn After Reading, but it is definitely a stand-out effort from the veteran filmmakers. Its trance-like feel, seamless direction and crisp look make it a truly awesome spectacle but what really makes this film is the brilliantly awkward and dark humour that the Coen’s just revel in. This is high in the running order as far as the Coen’s previous efforts are concerned and is proof that there is still so much more to come from this zany duo.

A Serious Man, set in a typical mid-west 1960s American suburb, follows the story of Larry Gopnik (Brilliantly played by Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor who appears to be having the worst week of his life. His wife stunningly announces she wants a divorce and has been seeing their neighbour Sy Ableman (Almost scarily well acted by Fred Melamed). Pretty soon his professional career comes into question and is also being bribed by a bitter student whom Larry failed. His life takes a grim spiral into almost morbid depression as he is involved in a car accident, he is intimidated by his racist neighbours, his wife kicks him out, takes his money and no one else seems to care while he is screwed over by everyone he knows. Larry allows himself to be walked over and is left battered and bruised by the whole experience, as a result is on the brink of a breakdown. His last hope appears to be to find the answers to his bitter existence through the very old and wise Rabbi Marshak. The story is essentially about Larry’s mid-life epiphany of how desperate his life is; he has been a good person, been a dedicated working man and always helped others but has never been rewarded for any of it, and now he needs answers.

It is a very disorientating film, dream-like for the most part but the gags and the action pack a real punch, leaving you just as exhausted and flabbergasted as Larry himself. It features some truly bizarre and often downright hilarious scenes, not least Larry’s son Danny trying to make it through his bar-mitzvah while completely stoned! The Coen’s own brand of surreal and bitter humour is out in full force and it works beautifully.

A Serious Man once again focuses on the foolishness of mankind and it derives its humour from the sheer stupidity of some of the characters. Just like in Burn After Reading we are met with strange characters whose bizarre errors ultimately sends them on a spiralling path to oblivion. Judging by the last three films the Coen’s worldview is getting considerably bleaker but their work maintains a very humanist approach. Characters like Larry are not just people to laugh at as their life quickly worsens, like say Basil Fawlty, they are redeemable and likeable characters. Stuhlbarg develops his character beautifully and gets a lot of sympathy out of his performance; you really do feel for the guy by the time the film reaches its unexpected ending.

The Coen Brothers have ended 2009 and the decade on a massive high, they have also proved that they are now a massive force in the film industry by achieving success even with incredibly ambitious, less conventional films such as this one. There have been few times where I have been completely engrossed in a film from the opening scene, but this is one of them. It is a truly well conceived and brilliant film which has, for me, become a late contender for film of the year! I would recommend it to everyone, even if you are not a Coen Bros fan, just for its sheer guts and brilliant humour.

Dave

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