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Serious Man

A movie directed by the Coen Brothers.

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When Charlie Brown met Job

  • Feb 20, 2010
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 work and leaving their best character traits and temperament in this one.

The movie centers around Larry Gopnick, a Jewish College Professor who lives a simple life in a Minnesota Suburb in the late 60's.  His son attends a Jewish school and will have his Bar Mitzvah soon, his daughter has an active social life and his wife... is having an affair with a colleague of his.  We also see that the son steals money out of Larry's wallet to buy weed at school and the daughter is also stealing money for plastic surgery.  Larry's brother lives on the couch and is working on a get rich quick scheme and  has a seedy night life.  Larry tries confronting the man his wife is having an affair with, the man couldn't be more charming in the most intimidating way and leaves Larry completely neutered and then he's told that he'll have to move out and pay for his own hotel room while the wife plans on having her lover move into Larry's house.  Other problems begin to mount including blackmail from a failing student of Larry's, a car accident, lawyers, a record club Larry didn't subscribe to and in the middle of any crisis, the son calls dad on the phone at work to fix the TV antenna so he can watch F Troop. 

Larry seeks help from lawyers to counter many matters in the movie, but they want money and offer little comfort.  The Rabbis Larry visits are either too inexperienced or too cryptic or too busy in thought to help Larry.  That only leaves God but as the movie goes on, Larry's resolve begins to crack but unlike a modern day Job, he never seems to realize that the Good Lord Giveth and the Good Lord he Taketh away.  The Lord is takething everythingith from Larry.

The cast is largely unknown and made all the better so we can more accurately see each character shaped into place without preconceived notions of what to expect and thankfully the cast is fantastic, especially the actor who plays Larry, Michael Stuhlbarg.  Your almost made to wonder in this black comedy about ordinary lives of a midwestern family if Larry Gopnick wasn't born and dressed in diapers emblazoned in yellow with a black zig zag across them.  Much like Charles Schultz's famous creation, Charlie Brown is the good man who never has anything good happen to him for no good reason.

The movie is said to be based on events the Coen Brothers experienced growing up and Larry loosely based on their father.  I wonder if the son is a combination of both Joel and Ethan.

There is a powerful lesson in this movie, in that in any situation, you must be strong, you must be serious and you must not sell out.  Two times in this movie Poor Larry does the wrong thing in selling out his morals to hopefully make life a little easier, the first comes as a red herring with no real consequence but the second, as SOON as Larry commits to something-when literal pen is to paper, ANYTHING that could make his life a little simpler-God comes calling, and he's pissed.
When Charlie Brown met Job

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August 29, 2010
I agree with your generous review that the last scene worked, and left the movie on a finely literary, that is open-ended, note that in its ambiguity and tension redeemed it partially. But the tone overall seemed so cartoonish and belittling that even for a satirical type like me, little sympathy could be summoned up for the characters. The Coens have been moving in their films towards more cruelty and less compassion, and this gets to me after their talents seem aimed at the LCD among the critical chattering classes who are the ones who will most agree with this type of story. I'd say they are keeping the quirks and the distortions, but I'm not sure this is progress! The hair, the fashions, the sets are designed to evoke a maximum horror from us about How It Looked in Tacky Suburbia back then. This takes some talent to do, but it seemed an easy target given the filmmakers have shown they can do better.
August 29, 2010
Thats not something I've really noticed to be honest. It was nice to see the Coens make a movie that really lacked the more odd quirks that they're other movies have.
August 29, 2010
TheJohn-- I expanded my comment to you after this; I appreciate your feedback!
July 21, 2010
One movie I still want to see...and I need to make time for it immediately. I cannot add anything else to your review except that I have to say it really got my interest. Thank you once again for your review.
July 21, 2010
It's a GREAT movie. It shows that the Coens can make movies that don't depend on quirks or funny hairstyles.
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 . 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 . July 02, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
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. …
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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John Nelson ()
Ranked #8
Born in Wausau Wisconsin. Move at an early age to Ventura California and lived for 8 years. Growing up in a big city landscape didn't prepare me for my next move: Archbold Ohio with a population of … more
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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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