The Coen brothers have done it again. “A Serious Man” defied all my expectations. I expected the film to be funny, but I certainly didn’t expect what I got: down right hilarity (very dark humor by the way). It is hilarity that, unlike “Burn After Reading”, I can watch again and again. It’s not just funny, it happens to be flat out incredible all around. This is the Coen’s best film since Fargo, in my opinion. The cast is stellar, and the story is wonderfully horrific.
It’s important to note that this film, really, is a retelling of the story of Job — a man faithful to God, though he loses everything in his life. Watch the film with that story in mind, and it adds to the experience exponentially. In the way tragedy befell Job, similar events befall the main character Larry (Michael Stuhlberg) over the course of this film.
Larry’s life is fairly mundane but he seems to prefer it that way. He’s a professor at a college and is up for tenure at the beginning of the film. His son, though ostensibly a good Jew, is a complete pothead with friends who are potheads also, and enablers to boot. In addition, the son is into his dealer for a small amount of money. Larry’s daughter doesn’t put up the same facade her younger brother does, and actively steals money from her father (though she never admits to it) for any number of things. Though, as the brother puts it, “it’s for a nose job”. Larry’s wife (Sari Lennick)…we’ll get to her.
For one hour and forty-five minutes Larry’s life fell apart piece-by-piece. With each horrible thing that happened to Larry I thought, “there’s no way things can get any worse for this guy” and then BAM, another slap in the face. This guy got dragged through the mud like I’d never seen. The events that happen in Larry’s life are sad and tragic. The story’s impetus occurred when Larry’s wife left him for a widower down the street named Sal (Fred Melamed). From there it just got worse for poor Larry. In fact, if this film wasn’t so damn funny it would be close to unwatchable because the events are just so heartbreaking.
While the events are bad they’re presented in a humorous way only the Coen’s can accomplish. However, it was really Larry’s reactions to, and perceptions of what was going on that kept the story afloat and me in stitches. Michael Stuhlberg pulls off the character perfectly. He’s so convincing in his role of being constantly baffled by goings-on that it’s worthy of a lot of praise. The supporting cast is wonderful as well but in my eyes (as far as the supporting actors go) Fred Melamed steals the show. He’s such an awkward and uncomfortable guy to watch here but it really does work. He’s so unbelievably nice that I almost forgot what a piece of crap he is in the film. This adds a lot to the uncomfortable atmosphere the Coen’s have created.
The Coen’s did a miraculous job at capturing mid-western USA life. They’ve captured it for the drab, bleak and often mind-numbing experience it really is. And it hasn’t changed much since the 60s. My only minor complaint about the film is the abrupt ending. At first glance I was angry and felt cheated (especially after the credits when the final logo is a horse’s ass). But, when I thought about it a little more I realized the ending does have its place; it does work, but I would have liked to see just a little bit more. All in all this is a wonderful film and absolutely deserves its best picture nomination from the Academy.