A Serious Man – a DVD review

Walking a very thin line between wincing hilarity and outright depression, A Serious Man chronicles a few months of Jewish physics professor Larry Gopnik’s life, which has become a perpetual catastrophe.

His wife is leaving him for his friend Sy Ableman, who greets Larry with hugs and thinks relations between the two men will improve if they talk. His son, Danny (Aaron Wolff), is soon to be bar mitzvahed but cares only about the TV reception for F Troop. His daughter continually steals from him to save for a nose job. Uncle Arthur, who also shares their house, has a life which seems to revolve around the draining of his sebaceous cyst. Larry is up for tenure at work but the committee receives disturbing anonymous notes about him.

The movie works because of Michael Stuhlbarg, who portrays Larry, not as a loser, but as an average joe who simply cannot believe the turns his life is taking. “I have not done anything!” he protests, Job-like. “I have tried to be a serious man,” he tells yet another junior rabbi he is pawned off on when attempting to see the busy, elusive head rabbi. The world sees Larry as a schmuck, and he doesn’t understand why God is giving him such tsouris (trouble).

A Serious Man is written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo, The Big Lebowski) and seems an odd choice to follow-up No Country for Old Men for which they won Oscars. The movie feels autobiographical, and it does take place in the Midwest, where they grew up. It has their trademark dark humor, but it seems a gentle movie for them.

For me, the film would have been worth seeing for nothing but the truly bizarre story of a Jewish dentist seeing Hebrew writing on the backs of a Gentile patient’s teeth.

The movie is in English with occasional Yiddish and Hebrew. DVD extras include the featurettes  “Becoming Serious,” “Creating 1967,” and “Hebrew and Yiddish for Goys.”

by Heather Craig

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