Archive for October, 2009

The Coen Brothers Get ‘Serious’

A Serious Man” — the fourteenth feature by the Coen Brothers — is about as black a comedy as the filmmakers have ever made. The movie centers on Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a nebbish physics professor who struggles to do right in the face of a bewildering (and frequently hilarious) array of adversities: his wife (Sari Lennick) announces that she’s leaving him for a smarmy widower; his upcoming tenure hearing promises to be ugly; his kids are stealing money out of his wallet; and ne’er-do-well brother (Richard Kind), who is plagued with a weeping cyst, has permanently sacked out on his couch.

As each of these crises pile on, Gopnik looks more and more like he’s about to blow a gasket. As the movie progresses, he seeks out the advice of three different rabbis whose council provides plenty of inane banalities but little solace. The truth is these supposed wise men, like everyone else, haven’t a clue why Gopnik is suffering such misfortunes. The Coens have long gotten mileage off of the absurdities of life, but they have never felt as pointed as they do here. At the film’s jarringly abrupt ending, movie-goers are more likely to wince than laugh.

When I talked to Joel and Ethan Coen last week, they were remarkably reluctant to talk about any kind of philosophy underlying “A Serious Man,” which I found odd considering the movie practically demands a post-viewing, caffeine-fueled conversation about the nature of God.

They were much more forthcoming about the process of making the movie. In particular they talked about why they opted not to cast big stars, how they happened to cast Tony-winning actor Michael Stuhlbarg in the lead (who gives a terrific performance), and about using Minnesota locals for key roles. They also talked briefly about their potential upcoming project, an adaptation of Michael Chabon’s book “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.” Continue reading ‘The Coen Brothers Get ‘Serious’’

October 2009

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