Toronto 2009 Review: The Coen Brothers' A Serious Man
by Alex Billington
September 11, 2009
Can the Coen Brothers ever do wrong? Okay, they can, but this really isn't one of those times. A Serious Man is a seriously great film, with some brilliantly dark humor and a simple story that turns out to mean quite a bit by the end. It's probably the most Jewish comedy you'll see all year, about a Jewish family in a small Jewish town. The performances are all great and everything about it is pretty much spot on, but at this point I don't think anyone expects any less from the Coens. And in terms of their comedy, I laughed more during this than I did during Burn After Reading, and I even really enjoyed that film (at Toronto last year).
A Serious Man actually has a surprisingly different story than you might be expecting, especially if you've seen the trailer. Everything starts to spin out of control in the life of Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a mathematics professor and father of a Jewish family, when his wife decides to leave him for another man, his crazy brother (Richard Kind) won't move out of the house, and he starts to run out of money. Three of the local Rabbis he visits for advice don't really tell him anything of value and he's just about to lose it when his pot-smoking son finally has his Bar Mitzvah. It's simple, but well-written, as usual from the Coens.
It's not that I wasn't expecting to laugh in a dark comedy from the Big Lebowski masterminds, I just didn't think I would be able to get into a Jewish comedy as much as I would a spy thriller like Burn After Reading. However, as I already mentioned, I found myself laughing out loud more in this than in Burn After Reading. The comedy is dry, often times quite dark, and sometimes even unintentional, but it was perfectly conceived. There's a great message in it that admittedly took me a while to gully figure out, but the film kept Peter from SlashFilm and I talking long afterward, which is a sign of great success, or at least spectacular filmmaking.
In short, I really enjoyed this film a lot, which wasn't too big of a surprise for me. In the first few minutes I was already thinking to myself, "God damn, the Coens are brilliant." They continue to create one great film after another and A Serious Man is just the latest fantastic feature from these two Minnesotan filmmakers.
Toronto Rating: 9 out of 10