Monday, October 12, 2009

The Rabbi Is Busy

To say that Larry Gopnik, the lead character in the new film A Serious Man, is "put upon" is putting it mildly. The guy, a college professor, has so much weighing on his shoulders that Hercules himself probably couldn't handle it. His wife suddenly announces she wants a divorce. His son, days away from his bar mitzvah, continually complains about the poor TV reception. One of his neighbors is scary. Another torments him by sunbathing in the nude. A student is bribing him for a better grade and threatening to sue him for defamation. The tenure committee will soon decide on Larry's professional life. No rabbi ever seems to have time for him. His brother ... well, you get the idea. Larry's got tsuris. Why is all of this happening to him, and why now?

Suffice it to say, the answers aren't easy. And actually, they're not plentiful either. Instead, this comedy keeps adding more and more to Larry's agita, without offering him much relief. For us, the audience, the film is a giant case of schadenfreude, and man oh man, is it ever funny. Do you need to be Jewish to get much of the humor? No — but it'll help. As with many of the Coen brothers' films, the quirks are plentiful. Also typical is the excellent acting across the board; Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Larry, is particularly good. And kudos as well to the casting directors. The Coens have written a gem of a film, one I really really enjoyed. Do I wish it didn't end rather abruptly? Yes. But then again, solving all of Larry's problems would probably take more time than we all could imagine.

A Serious Man is, ahem, seriously good. I'm giving it an A–.



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