A Serious Man

Release Date: October 2, 2009
Limited release

One of these guys is married to Frances McDormand. We're not sure which.

On the Big Board
Position Staff In Brief
4/13 Sean Collier Dramedy isn't the word - dramatic comedy, maybe - and a fine entry in the Coen canon.
25/38 John Seal Not prime Coen Brothers, but if you're a fan you should still check it out
112/169 Max Braden I get what they're going for and it probably amuses its target audience, but watching this was like watching the full length version of the ugly sister's talent show practice in Dirty Dancing.

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A weird thing happened in the last couple of years. The one-two punch of No Country for Old Men ($74 million) and Burn After Reading ($60 million) suddenly made the Coen brothers relevant at the box office. Despite always finding a cult following on DVD, mainstream audiences never embraced the critically adored siblings the same way they did with Paul Blart or Jigsaw.

And their fans were always the better for it.

Mitigating any unwarranted to pressure to replicate previous successes has allowed the Coens to work without a net. Priority number one was consistently telling a story enriched with memorably eccentric characters and erratic plot turns. No need for the obvious belly laugh and perfectly wrapped ending, the Coens were more concerned with unraveling a tale that would gestate in the mind long after the lights came up in the theatre. Although No Country for Old Men and Burn After Reading were commercial successes, the brothers did not at all stray from their unconventional formula. The money those films raked in was attributed more to the Oscars No Country won and the A-list cast that populated Burn After Reading.

Nevertheless, the Coens are now a brand name that not only can win accolades, but can make a profitable turn in the process. Could this in turn dilute the content of future Coen films? Judging by their next effort, A Serious Man, it appears not. Being their real official follow-up to the Oscar winning No Country for Old Men (Burn After Reading was already in the can when they were accepting the Best Picture award), the Coens have ditched their high profile casts and suspense-filled stories for a movie more in the vein of The Man Who Wasn’t There (an excellent character study for those who have yet to see it).

A Serious Man follows Larry Gopnik, a physics professor circa 1967, who has just been informed by his wife that she is leaving him for one of his colleagues. Further complicating matters are Larry’s unemployable brother Arthur, who is sleeping on the couch, his son Danny, a discipline problem, and his daughter Sarah, who is stealing money from his wallet to save up for a nose job. And if that wasn’t enough, an anonymous person is trying to sabotage Larry’s chances for tenure at the university, a graduate student is bribing him for a passing grade while threatening to sue for defamation, and the beautiful woman next door torments him by sunbathing nude. Seeking assistance with his afflictions and pursuit to be a righteous and serious man, Larry asks for advice from three different rabbis.
A Serious Man stars relative unknown (but Tony nominated for 2005’s The Pillowman) Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind (Spin City and George Clooney’s best friend), and Adam Arkin (Hitch).

The wacky high jinks (not to mention star power) of Burn After Reading this is not. But then the Coen’s were never ones for tired regurgitations. A Serious Man will likely be more for the Coen diehards; however, that fan base has grown considerably since the last time they tried a subtle, character-driven story (2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There pulled in a meager $7 million). (Joel West/BOP)

Vital statistics for A Serious Man
Main Cast Michael Stuhlbarg, Fred Melamed, Richard Kind
Supporting Cast Aaron Wolf, Sari Wagner, Jessica McManus, Adam Arkin
Director Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Screenwriter Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Distributor Focus Features
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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