A Serious Man (15)



Comedy (2009)
105mins US

Starring: Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolf, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jessica McManus
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Writer(s): Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Jewish university lecturer Larry Gopnik is knocked for six when wife Judith announces she wants a divorce so she can marry a mutual friend. Adding to poor Larry's woes, an Asian student seems to think he can bride his way to a passing grade. Unable to make contact with the chief rabbi, Larry tries to sort out the myriad problems himself but every good deed leads to more misery.

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LondonNet Film Review
A Serious Man

If fortune truly favours the brave, it's no surprise that the hen-pecked, mild-mannered mensch at the centre of Joel and Ethan Coen's new black comedy is pummelled senseless by bad luck...

A Serious Man. Copyright: © 2009 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Set in a Jewish community in mid-1960s Minneapolis reminiscent of the film-maker brothers' own childhoods, A Serious Man is a deceptively simple portrait of a family in crisis, distinguished by a sharp script and terrific ensemble cast. Following the unbearable tension of No Country For Old Men and the frippery of Burn After Reading, this new picture finds the Coens in a quirky hinterland where they previously bowled strikes with The Big Lebowski. A quotation from 11th-century rabbi Rashi ("Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you") sows the seeds of foreboding, which blossom during a deliciously dark, Yiddish-language prologue set in a 19th-century Polish shtetl. In this small Jewish village, a couple come face-to-face with a dybbuk (an evil spirit from folklore), which curses them for eternity. The stylish, self-contained vignette doesn't have any bearing on the rest of the film, but neatly introduces the themes of passivity and misfortune.

University physics lecturer Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is knocked for six when wife Judith (Sari Lennick) announces she wants a divorce so she can marry their mutual friend Sy (Fred Melamed). The children don't appear fussed: daughter Sarah (Jessica McManus) only wants her father around to pay for a nose job, while teenage son Danny (Aaron Wolff) just needs him to fiddle with the aerial on the roof so they can receive his favourite television programme. Adding to poor Larry's woes, one of his Asian students (David Kang) seems to think he can bribe his way to a passing grade, and his brother Arthur (Richard Kind) is making a nuisance of himself at all hours of the day with a troublesome sebaceous cyst. Unable to make contact with the chief rabbi, Larry tries to sort out the myriad problems himself - but every good deed only leads to more misery.

A Serious Man. Copyright: © 2009 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. A Serious Man drops us squarely into the mounting devastation of Larry's once-idyllic life as, one by one, all of the people closest to him push him away. Even the chief rabbi, whose wise counsel could help him make sense of the misery, refuses to see him. Stuhlbarg adopts a permanent look of incredulity as his caring family man struggles to make sense of the cards that life has dealt him. The supporting cast vividly bring their roles to life - Wolff is extremely watchable as the rock'n'roll-mad teenager fast approaching his bar mitzvah - as the Coens add flecks of humour, some of them causing us to wince almost as much as the characters.

- Jo Planter


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