By Dave Minkus
Dave’s Score: 8/10
Whether you like or dislike a film made by Joel and Ethan Coen, you have to admit that every film they make is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. If you’ve listened to our podcast very long, you know that I have a theory that a Coen Brothers film is going to fit into one of two genres: we have their gritty noir films like Fargo, Miller’s Crossing and No Country for Old Men, and then we have their absurd films like The Hudsucker Proxy and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Yes, Barton Fink crosses both quite sublimely, but most of their films fit into one of the two categories. A Serious Man is gloriously absurd. As with the crossing of downhome southern Christianity with Homer’s The Odyssey in O Brother, A Serious Man crosses 50’s suburban Jewish culture with the Biblical story of Job. I know, it’s abstract, but it works![youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcUTv3LH3ss[/youtube]
One of the things I enjoyed most about this film is that it’s purely a creation of the Coens’. The biggest name you’ll find in this film Richard Kind. Most people would know him best as hypochondriac Harvey Corman on Scrubs. That’s absolutely not a slam against Mr. Kind, who is absolutely endearing as Uncle Arthur. Having an unknown cast could be considered a risk with some filmmakers, but we all know the Coens have an eye for talent. There isn’t a single weak performance, but I’ve got to talk about Michael Stuhlbarg as our Job, Larry Gopnik. The sheer insanity that Larry has to go through is funny enough. The fact that he plays Larry as a man who is incredulous about the fact that nobody else sees how ludicrous his life is comes across beautifully. I would go as far as to say that I would have completely forgiven the film if Larry were to break the fourth wall, look at the camera and say “ARE YOU SEEING THIS?!” a few times. Larry is a guy you can definitely feel for. I’m not even going to get into his stoner kid and that storyline. It’s a blast to just watch that unfold all on its own.
You can tell that Roger Deakins was the Director of Photography because the film looks simply beautiful. Every seen is vibrant and makes you embrace the world with every scene and every shot. This is incredibly important because if you don’t buy into this being a real world, the final scene would be downright impossible to sell.
With all the praise I’m heaping on this movie, it isn’t perfect. I couldn’t tell you where the film could have been trimmed, but it felt like it was about 10 minutes too long. Let me be clear, this movie is well worth watching, but it isn’t my favorite Coen film. Unfortunately, in this day and age of hyperbole in internet film criticism, it’s easy to read “not my favorite” and see “WOW this movie sucks”. That isn’t the case here. It’s a wonderful film that should be seen, but it’s not without that one fault I could find.
As I said at the beginning, you have the two different genres that most Coen Brothers films fit into. Most people will find that they prefer one over the other. That doesn’t mean that they’re mutually exclusive. This one squarely belongs in the world of the absurd, and it’s a wonderful thing. I can’t say how happy I am that we have such talented filmmakers filling a void in two genres that are sorely lacking these days. If you’re more of a noir fan, you may want to temper your expectations a bit, but you’ll still enjoy it. If you’re an absurdist fan, buckle up and enjoy the ride that A Serious Man offers you.