Title: A Serious Man
Directors: Joel and Ethan COen
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff
Length: 106 minutes
Not to be confused with the very similarly titled A Single Man – which has also been recently released starring Colin Firth. A Serious Man is about Professor Larry Gopnik who is left by his wife for his neighbour, and struggles to look after his wayward kids in the context of a Jewish home. All in the midst of his son’s upcoming Bar Mitzvah. He gets walked over by his wife, and people around him also to some extent. His wife asks him to leave his marital home so she can be with the neighbour an to allow her a GET – a traditional Jewish way of divorcing which allows her to remarry within the faith. His kids ignore him anf give him a hard time and a Korean kid at the college where he lectures tries to bribe him to get himself a better grade. His life is not going well, but he doesn’t get too emotional, he just gets on with it. Perhaps worst of all, his Uncle, who lives with him and his family, is in trouble for gambling, in a state that doesn’t allow it. Basically he has a lot of problems.
Yet for all that, A Serious Man is not as serious a film as it sounds. It is, after all, written and directed by the Coen brothers – best known for comedy capers such as Fargo and The Big Lebowski, but the acting, direction, cinematography and score are all top class. For me personally, this is certainly one of the Coen brothers’ most enjoyable, and despite the Jewish theme, most approachable films. It is definitely less awkward than some of their other past efforts.
Michael Stuhlbarg is very impressive in the lead role. I’ve not seen him in anything else but he is likable and believable in the role. He is good in both comedy moments and also when called upon to act more, well, seriously. His son is played by youngster Aaron Wolff who also puts in a solid performance. Support comes from Richard Kind, Fred Melamed and Simon Helberg.
Fans of the TV show The Big Bang Theory however should beware: this film only contains about five minutes of Simon Helberg as a Jewish rabbi. I’m sure he is high up the cast list on most websites related to this film and it might be that the producers are trying to sell this as featuring more of Helberg than is actually true, given his relative fame at the moment due to the success of The Big Bang Theory. However you should not let this affect your decision to watch or not watch the film or spoil your enjoyment of the film in general. Helberg’s cameo is actually pretty funny as well.
It is an interesting film and although it is very strongly Jewish it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to be Jewish to understand it or fully enjoy it. I probably understood about 50% of the Jewish words and phrases used but it is not too difficult to guess what most of words meant just by the context of the conversations. And if you’re still struggling a little bit then there is a handy Jewish glossary of terms on the special features. You might want to take a look at this before viewing, just as an aid, or just for fun.
A Serious Man is a very good film, full of real life dilemmas and the main character’s funny and strange dream sequences that you simply won’t see coming until they are over. It’s more a series of events in the lead character’s life and how he reacts to the external forces that are affecting his life, which means that there is no specific plot, no real beginning, middle and end which makes it a little different to other films and gives it a sort of Indie feel to it.