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Serious Man

A movie directed by the Coen Brothers.

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Simply Wretched

  • Jul 2, 2010
Pros: Nothing at all, nothing

Cons: Every every every little and last thing.

The Bottom Line: Simply awful, no need to say more.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.

Joel and Ethan Coen have sold their souls to a haphazard soulshark. Rather than giving up their whole souls for permanent triumphs, they have bargained to make at least one very bad movie for every very good one. If you are a fan of the pair, then you probably have your list but I do it something like: The Hudsucker Proxy paid for No Country for Old Men which was so good that it probably required payment of The Man Who Wasn’t There and The Ladykillers also. Burn After Reading was awful, but the very next film, A Serious Man was wretched. I have to think the soulshark owes them a Citizen Kane type success now.

The setting is an unnamed “Levittown” every-no-where in the middle 1960s. Larry Gopnick, professor of mathematics, is having a very bad couple of weeks. He’s bribed and threatened by a student and he’s facing the tenure committee that is being buffeted with letters asserting immoral behavior. His wife wants a divorce so she can get married to a friend of the family. His son is about to have his bar mitzvah but is only interested in television and pot, and his daughter is totally aimless with regards to everything but her hair. The rest of the movie contains a couple of car accidents, a heart attack, an anti-Semitic neighbor, and Jewish educators trying to puzzle through the meaning or impact of Grace Slick (ok, this last bit is an exaggeration but a movie this bad needs a review with a little distraction).

A Serious Man is yet one more pitiful copy of Death of a Salesman that mimics the pathos but leaves out the larger despair that makes Salesman almost tragic. Further, it is a Jewish version of suburban emotional blunting like Revolutionary Road, American Beauty, Little Children, and The Ice Storm. While I am not a fan of all of these films, each had at least one thing that made watching it time neutral or even being well worth the time spent. Not even in the same sport, let alone ballpark for this awful flick.

There are attempts at what I can only call wry humor. The problem is that the uncle that has to constantly drain a cyst, the daughter’s follicle obsession, being cuckolded by a new-age, touchy-feely but Orthodox Jew do not even rise to the level of pathetic, they are ultimately just silly.

What hammers this aspect flush is too many of the conflicts are in vignettes that just stop. I understand unfinished stories, half-narratives or whatever other term I care to make up are often considered part of a mature style—no, we do not all need to have every loose end tied up to be satisfied. If the film had been more tightly (or even a little) controlled, this narrative choice might have worked. Instead, it looks like a third or more of the film was just cut to the floor and swept away while the editor napped.

It is impossible to determine the caliber of the acting since the characters are so poorly formed. Everyone was supposed to play suburban Jewish stereotypes and they do; given this I will not list the actors if for no other reason than to spare them the little shame I can in this not-so-humble review. In that it is an ensemble piece they all equally sucked or succeeded. I’m still trying to determine the answer here. But there is no reason to try to help me in this minor pursuit.


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More A Serious Man reviews
review by . March 16, 2011
I am rather uneducated in the works of the Coens, but the movies I have seen from them have all been damn terrific. This film is no different. This is kind of what I imagine American Beauty would be like, a tale about suburban life and a man's struggle just to make everything in his life work. A Serious Man definitely did deserve its Best Picture nomination last year and I'm surprised Michael Stuhlbarg didn't get a best actor nomination because his performance was spectacular.   …
review by . October 27, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Finally, in my chronological journey through the Coen Brothers body of work, I come to the latest of their movies (surely not the last, which would be a cause for mourning).  If you have followed my reviews, you know that I find the core of the work (and the best of it) is about finding and understanding identity (See my review of Burn after Reading for a summary of my reviews to that point)..      In Serious Man, they return to their time (mid 60s), place (Midwest) and …
review by . February 08, 2011
Finally, in my chronological journey through the Coen Brothers body of work, I come to the latest of their movies (surely not the last, which would be a cause for mourning).  If you have followed my reviews, you know that I find the core of the work (and the best of it) is about finding and understanding identity (see my review of Burn After Reading      In Serious Man, they return to their time (mid 60s), place (midwest) and ethnic identity (Jewish family life) to mine …
review by . November 22, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****      "A Serious Man" proves that the Coen Brothers are some of the best two filmmakers living. They have impressed me in the past and they have disappointed me; a nice mix, if you ask me. They have had their triumphs, their successes, and then their lesser efforts. "A Serious Man" is one of their best by all means, being a thought-provoking piece of story-telling with not a boring moment to spare. I was seriously hooked every moment of the …
review by . February 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
When Charlie Brown met Job
Why do bad things happen to good people?  After watching A Serious Man, I realized that it isn't so much that only the good people are the ones who have bad things happen to them, but that we care when they do.  We don't care about the bad things that happen to bad people, unless they're an anti hero.       A Serious Man is arguabbly most mature of the Coen Brothers movies, saving the skittish characters and the worst eccentricies for another …
review by . July 09, 2011
This ninth Mike Zoss Production concerns the mounting woes of a hapless, well-meaning physics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) in late-'60s St. Louis Park, Minnesota. His wife (Sari Lennick) wants to divorce him for a widowed friend (Fred Melamed); his deadbeat brother (Richard Kind) is a criminal burden; a sultry neighbor (Amy Landecker) sunbathes in the buff, while another (Peter Breitmayer) quietly hates his guts; his teenage son is a habitual pothead and his daughter steals money from him to …
review by . July 22, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
What Pompted You to write a Review?      I really like this movie, but its not very well known How was the Plot, Acting, Direction?      Perfect, it was funny, everyone was very good at acting Were You ENTERTAINED?      yes, it was a very interesting story, I never looked at my watch Did It Fulfill Expectations? Hype Level?      I didn't have very high expectations, I knew it was nominated for best picture and …
review by . February 17, 2010
The Coen Brothers Show Their Versatility, But Leave More to be Desired...
Every time a Coen Brothers film comes out, they seem to go in this bad, good and decent order.  For example take No Country for Old Men; how that movie ever won best picture is beyond me because it was straight up terrible.  Then came Burn After Reading which was really good and funny.  Finally, A Serious Man comes out not to long ago and doesn't get a lot hype but none the less, the film is decent and gets nominated for best picture.  Now, does it deserve a best picture nod? …
Quick Tip by . August 29, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I thought this would work, but like "Burn After Reading" or "Barton Fink" it let me down. The Bros Coen keep getting more self-hating about their Jewish suburban angst; this curdles their arch narratives. Their smugness given their status as critical darlings contrasts with how Philip Roth or Bernard Malamud's novels from this 60s period managed critique of this oft-critiqued milieu without making you feel cheapened. Parts of this film were great, as in the twists at the …
Quick Tip by . July 24, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Jewish College Professor has his life coming apart at the seams as he copes with what is supposed to be lifes mysteries and too often not finding the right solutions. Fantastic cast and film.
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Paul Savage ()
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I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
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About this movie


A Serious Man is a black comedy feature film written, produced, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. It is due to be released on October 2, 2009, in the United States.

The film is set in St. Louis Park, Minnesota in the year 1967, and is intended in some ways to reflect the childhood of the Coen brothers as they recall it.

The protagonist is Larry Gopnik, a Jewish academic living in a middle-class Jewish neighborhood in a Minneapolis suburb. The story follows Gopnik's spiritual and existential struggle as his wife Judith contemplates leaving him for his colleague Sy Ableman. Adding to his suffering is his ne'er-do-well brother, Arthur, who lacks the resources and the ability to care for himself and consequently lives on Larry's couch. Larry begins to question the value of his life as he deals with these and other trials, including his son, Danny, who steals money from his wallet to buy marijuana; his daughter, Sarah, who steals to finance a planned nose job; a student who alternately attempts to bribe him for a passing grade and threatens to sue him for defamation (made all the worse because Larry is up for tenure); and a female neighbor who distracts him by sunbathing in the nude. Larry seeks advice from three different rabbis in an attempt to solve his problems and to become an austere and devoted man.
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Release Date: 2009
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: February 09, 2010
Runtime: 1hr 46min
Studio: Universal Studios
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