Review: A Serious Man (TIFF)
PLOT: Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a mild mannered physics professor, approaching tenure at a quiet Midwestern University living with his family in a close knit Jewish suburb. His life quickly begins to fall a part when his wife announces that she's leaving him for their neighbor widower Sy Abelman (Fred Melamed), sending him into a massive crisis of faith. Meanwhile, he also has to deal with his socially awkward, unemployable brother (Richard Kind).
REVIEW: I've been putting off reviewing A SERIOUS MAN for almost a week, as it's taken me that long to figure out how I really feel about the film. Watching it at the press screening last Friday, I felt a little bit like the slowest guy in the room, as the critics around me where practically rolling in the aisles with laughter. Sure it was funny, but not outrageously so, and to me this seemed like more of a tragedy than a comedy.
You see, the main character, Gopnik, is a guy who lives a very typically Jewish middle class life (for 1967 anyway). He goes to work every day, prays in the synagogue, keeps kosher, and is a loyal member of the faith, who also provides for his family. Yet, when all of these things start to get stripped away from him- he's all but abandoned by his faith.
When he tries to visit a rabbi, he only gets to see a junior version (a funny performance from THE BIG BANG THEORY's Simon Helberg) before finally seeing another more senior rabbi- with both offering him absolutely nothing in terms of console. The main rabbi refuses to see him at all (with the secretary claiming he's too busy thinking). His community contacts get him nowhere, with all of them just trying to milk him financially, and none offering him any kind of genuine compassion. Judging from this film, the Coens have nothing but contempt for organized religion. I don't think they're necessarily trying to single out Judaism, but I suppose their point is that faith is a good thing- but organized religion- not necessarily, and that you shouldn't just define yourself by your religion.
Alas, I may have missed the point entirely, or seen something that isn't there- so we'll see what everyone else thinks once it comes out later this fall. Regarding the entertainment value it's a quality film, but for me, not one of their best. It really took me awhile to get into it, which is rare for me with the Coens, as I tend to love their films (with a few exceptions). Still, there are a lot of nice touches, with star Stuhlbarg (a major departure from their usual star driven films) making a decent, and likable everyman. I loved the whole subplot involving him, and a Korean student that's trying to blackmail hum for a higher grade- as this seemed the most like the Coens I know and love.
Slow star aside, things really come together towards the end, and the final scene is very powerful- as they're obviously trying to say something about how there's a higher price for sacrificing your principles than you might think (even a divine price). I think A SERIOUS MAN is probably a good film to see more than once- and I'll definitely revisit it at some point, and it may get better with repeated viewings. At the very least, it's definitely a film worth seeing.
Other reviews from TIFF: MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS - UP IN THE AIR - JENNIFER'S BODY - THE INVENTION OF LYING - DAYBREAKERS - YOUTH IN REVOLT - THE BOYS ARE BACK - THE ROAD - THE INFORMANT!- BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS