This review of A Serious Man is another installment of the he said/she said co-reviews with Eric Robinette of Sir Critic’s Cinema. Yes, yes I know it’s from Ethan and Joel Coen and therefore it must be amazing, right? No. The film had some great moments but overall it was plain useless because there was very little character interaction or development.
Robinette says, “By now, the Coen brothers have well established they are master filmmakers. However, in addition to being masters of filmmaking craft in general, they’re also the masters of a particular brand of film. I call it the “What the Hell was THAT?” Film — you don’t know what you just saw, but you’re pretty sure it was great.”
The patriarch (and I use that lightly) of the Jewish Gopnik family is Larry (Michael Stuhlbarg). He’s a physics professor who should never be allowed to teach — just because you’re a genius doesn’t mean you’re fit to teach. The man is spineless and ignorant. He’s in a hapless marriage but is absolutely oblivious. He can’t even tell his marriage is unraveling right in front of his eyes. He never puts his foot down and by the end of the film you just pity him. A little gumption would have been nice.
The man’s wife Judith (Sari Lennick) and son Danny (Aaron Wolff) were two of the only likeable characters because at least they did something good for themselves each day. Whether it was drinking wine or listening to music, the mom and son were able to enjoy life and be somewhat happy. The son is great because he’s the opposite of his father — he’s a fun kid who isn’t afraid to rebel a little, i.e. toker but at the same time can knuckle down and be responsible, i.e. Bat Mitzvah. This just helps the theory that if your parents are strict you’re more likely to rebel.
The cynical moral of the film is that life sucks sometimes, and sucks hard, thus the film begins with the quote, “Accept with simplicity everything that happens to you.” Whether it’s getting bad news from the Doc, debt, marital troubles, etc. something bad is going to come your way. But you just have to wade through it to get to the good moments in life that make it worth the hardships.
I think Robinette and are on very similar planes, as he thinks, “What it said to me was that sometimes life hands you nothing but lemons for reasons beyond your control, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You may ask God why it’s all happening to you, or wonder what it is you did to “deserve” all this – but in those questions lie madness, so you might as well not wonder. The best you or anyone can do is take the hits as they come, and find solace in whatever blessings you have in life, because nothing matters more than those, especially in trying times.”
From the technical standpoint, the film excels. The Coen brothers (True Grit, Burn After Reading, No Country for Old Men) faltered a little bit with this one. It’s certainly not up to their par and just because their names are on it doesn’t mean we have to like this one. The use of narration, slow motion, repetition and fantasy all helped distract me long enough to enjoy the film fleetingly.
Robinette and his love for the Coens, “A Serious Man isn’t their best movie, but no film of their is more endearingly peculiar, or more idiosyncratic. Indeed, no film of the Coens may be more … them. It bears all their hallmarks: Put-upon characters who can’t get anything right, odd camera angles, a particular fondness for the wide-angle lens, rat-tat-tat dialogue.” Read his full review here.