A Serious Man (2009) is a joke.
Wait! Don’t rage-quit! That statement is not meant in any negative connotation. The film is amazing, almost perfect in every respect, the Coen Brothers best film, second only to Fargo (1996). But the fact remains: this film is a literal joke.
Our tale is wrapped entirely around Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Jewish physics professor whose life suddenly and completely collapses around him. He seeks the answers to why his wife Judith (Sari Lennick) is suddenly leaving him for community-pillar Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), for why his children Danny (Aaron Wolf) and Sarah (Jessica McManus) treat him like crap, for why his brother Arthur (Richard Kind) is constantly getting into legal trouble, and those are only three of the dozens of problems Larry has to face. Everything totally and absolutely caves in.
As mentioned, this film is joke, an actual thematic build up to a single punch line. Hell, it’s even structured as a joke, with him visiting three Rabbis and three times receiving bad answers. Of course I won’t spoil the joke that is this film, but I will say that it is, and all the humor is, very Jewish. The Jews have a very distinct style of comedy, and it’s in full force here. I personally find it hilarious, but to each their own. Now this comedy in question, in order to be pulled off well, requires a lot from the writing, acting, and direction, but there’s no need to fear.
The screenplay is only reinforces my point about A Serious Man being a joke. There’s barely any plot or development to speak of. It’s a “day-in-the-life-of” flick, and this is not a detriment. Without bogging themselves in needless events or arbitrary set-pieces, the Brothers have written in such a way that supports the humor and tells us everything we need to know about what everyone is thinking and feeling. It’s nothing short of brilliant. And the acting superbly helps as well. Each and every performance is so intensely perfect, I’m shocked that this wasn’t nominated for any acting Oscars. While Melamed and Lennick make you squeal and squirm (but still adore them), MVP honors must go to Stuhlbarg. His performance is striking, comedic gold. Every line, every syllable, is spoken, shouted, mumbled, or whispered flawlessly. But all this acting skill is, of course, a trademark of our directors. They just bring out the best in people, whether noted and careered actors, or actors who’ve done next to nothing before (like this film). Certainly, the style and upbringing of A Serious Man is very well known to the Brothers, after all, they too were born and raised in a Jewish community in 1960’s Minnesota. So naturally, the film’s design is perfect, just as if you were to recall your own memories. And since nearly everything has the Brothers knee-deep in it (they even edited the film, using the moniker “Roderick Jaynes”), the direction is completely stellar. I mean, come on; while I haven’t personally done any other of the Brothers work on this site, I don’t think I need to say how good they are. They just make good movies in the same way that you or I would breathe.
And that’s really all I have to say. There’s basically nothing wrong with this film, which means there’s basically no reason for you to not see it. It was the best movie of 2009 (suck it, The Hurt Locker), the second best movie the Coen Brothers have ever made, and easily in the top movies of the decade. Well? Are you watching it yet?