I am admittedly biased when it comes to films by the Coen brothers. After all, they are the creators of one of my favourite films of all time, Fargo, and plenty of classics such as The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men.
Their latest project, the black comedy A Serious Man, has received little commercial fanfare despite being widely acclaimed by critics as well as receiving multiple award nominations (including Best Picture at the Oscars). I wouldn’t say A Serious Man ranks right up there as the Coen brothers’ best work, but I think it is certainly one of their better films, one that will almost certainly achieve cult status (if it hasn’t already).
A Serious Man tells the story of an ordinary, rather spineless Jewish man in the 1960s who is struggling with everything that is happening in his life, from his health to his family to his job as a physics professor. It is supposed to be loosely based on the book of Job from the Old Testament.
Don’t let that rather dry description put you off this film. To be honest, there isn’t all that much of a ‘story’. A Serious Man is really more like a series of interconnected events that keep happening around the central character Larry Gopnik (played by the brilliant, but largely unknown actor Michael Stuhlbarg).
But somehow, the Coen brothers manage to make A Serious Man compelling and compulsive. I couldn’t stop watching as one thing after another hits poor Larry, seemingly at random. You simply don’t know what to expect.
I love the Coen brothers’ brand of humour — that insanely dark, quirky, random humour that pops out of nowhere and is equally hilarious and disturbing. In A Serious Man, the laughs are somewhat sporadic, but they are always brilliant and strangely insightful. My favourite sequences involve Larry and a Korean student named Clive (as well as Clive’s father), who is trying to reverse an F grade that would cause him to lose his scholarship.
As much as I enjoyed A Serious Man, I can understand if others hate it. The Coen brothers often make such polarising films and it’s never possible to please everyone. Parts of the film are slow, and on the surface at least, it sometimes feels like the narrative has no direction. There is a very odd prologue set in the early 20th century at the beginning that has seemingly no connection to the rest of the film. And if you thought the ending in No Country for Old Men was messy and unsatisfying, wait till you see this one.
Having said all that, I enjoyed every minute of A Single Man.
4.5 stars out of 5!