The Coen Brothers have carved themselves a particular pastiche – most notably through the hyper-specifc self-reference and high-flying humor that’s usually black, or dark, and wrapped-up in some macabre topic. The brothers, Joel and Ethan, have been increasingly efficient Hollywood mainstays since their debut, Blood Simple, premiered in 1984. Through two intense periods of classic releases, the Coen Brothers have only created for themselves a wider range within which to work. Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, Fargo and The Big Lebowski, even over a 20 year hallmark, have all defined the Coens as Oscar-worthy writer/directors and opened doors to funding an star power in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, No Country For Old Men, True Grit and Burn After Reading. Their collective status have also granted them access to higher budgets and wider audiences all of whom can find something to which to relate. The Coen Brothers have carved themselves out an eponym and the command of Hollywood’s collective attention the way Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorcese do.
So what the hell is A Serious Man?
Their 2009 Jewish Fargo, A Serious Man plays from the left-field in the Coens’ roster – even for the men who once crafted an entire movie around Jeff Bridges’ ability to smoke marijuana and drink Kahlua all day. In short: A Serious Man is the nebbish version of The Big Lebowski if The Big Lebowski took place in an innocuous neighborhood close to Fargo. A Serious Man plays off almost every single Jewish stereotype, but for film’s sake each one is laughably overexposed. First, there’s the family: Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) a helpless family man, stuck in an unloving marriage to his wife and to his job, who experiences every possible failure all the time. For such an unstable person, he’s remarkable consistent and serves as a foil to A Serious Man‘s undulating cast of misfits. In minor roles, his family and his colleagues – and to a lesser extent his rabbis an lawyers – help to exacerbate his stereotypically Jewish neuroses: most spectacularly his utterly failed attempts to be a mensch. But it’s not for want of trying – the man Larry Gopnik is instantly likable and the Coens do a mystical job of keeping him sympathetic for the whole of A Serious Man even through his trials of not being able to do anything with gumption and panache. The methodology in A Serious Man recalls the Coen Brothers’ long résumé but something about the subject matter is simultaneously foreign and strikingly inherent to the Brothers’ upbringing and ascent to the top of Hollywood’s elite. Continue reading