A SERIOUS MAN *

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LARRY GOPNIK (MICHAEL STUHLBARG) is living in the Twilight Zone.

It’s 1967, the last year of the decade that could be classified as reasonably simple or serene. The world is about to become dark and complicated.

That process has all ready started for Larry, a physics professor at a bland midwestern university.

His wife is going to leave him. Some testosterone fuelled goon is extorting money from his son Danny at Hebrew school while perpetually threatening to kick the crap out of him. His daughter is stealing money from him so that she can finance her nose job.

His brother Arthur has severe physical and emotional problems that prevent him from working. He’s living with Larry’s family and driving them all crazy.

Danny signed up for a record club under Larry’s name. Larry can’t afford it on an ongoing basis. But he is unable to convince them to cancel the membership.

He’s in a car accident. A foreign exchange student that failed his midterm tries to bribe him. The kid’s father then threatens to sue him.

Someone is writing nasty letters to the university accusing Larry of moral turpitude. His tenure could be in serious jeopardy.

And, on top of it all, the crimson hot suburban tigress next door insists on sexually tormenting him by sunbathing buck naked.

Sound like a full plate?

It’s about to get even worse…

Larry has aspirations of being a serious man like his former friend Sy Ableman. He is a decent person who tries to do the right thing.

But, for whatever reason, he simply can’t find the ways or the means to be the substantial human being that he feels he should be.

The Coen brothers are the kings of quirk. Each film that they do possesses odd characters in their own offbeat little universe.

Individuality is a precious thing. It’s fantastic that they don’t make movies like anyone else and that they’re true to themselves.

But they don’t always work.

BARTON FINK is fabulous. MILLER’S CROSSING, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY and THE BIG LEBOWSKI all have their own unique charms. Even FARGO has its moments.

In A SERIOUS MAN, exceptional character actors like RICHARD KIND and GEORGE WYNER are wasted.

The only bright spots are AMY LANDECKER as the sultry neighbour (wondrous line readings and sharply knowing azure eyes that look right through you) and ADAM ARKIN as Larry’s lawyer.

Most of the acting is merely adequate. The characters (with the possible exception of Larry) are mainly written as clunky caricatures that are unbelievable in any case.

This is a nihilistic blackly comedic existential nightmare of minor proportions. If the so called resolution of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN left you cursing and outraged, just wait till you get a load of this particular ending.

The best thing about A SERIOUS MAN is that I’ll never have to sit through it again.

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