Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. Starring Michael Stuhlbarg and Richard Kind. Rated PG. Opens Friday, October 16, at the Park Theatre and the Cinemark Tinseltown
Viewers will recognize almost no names in A Serious Man, the latest film from writer-directors Ethan and Joel Coen, and only a few of the faces are familiar. But certain archetypes will ring true to those with a passing acquaintance with the Old Testament and/or the latter half of the 20th century.
Stage actor Michael Stuhlbarg plays Larry Gopnik, whose life as a timid Midwestern physics professor, circa 1967, is about to get seriously unstable. Neither the college tenure committee nor a series of ineffectual rabbis can help him figure out why his wife (Sari Lennick) is ready to leave him for a curiously consoling family friend (Fred Melamed). His math-genius brother (Richard Kind), snoring on the Scandinavian-modern couch and worse, just might be insane; daughter dear is filching his money for a secret nose job; and Larry’s 13-year-old is listening to Jefferson Airplane instead of studying for his upcoming bar mitzvah.
(The period details are otherwise so sharp, it’s disturbing when someone from the Columbia Record Club tells our nebbishy hero he owes money for two albums that won’t be released until 1970.)
The view isn’t much clearer from the roof of the Gopniks’ ranch house, in a mostly Jewish suburb of Minneapolis—much like the one where the Coen brothers grew up. But there Larry can adjust the antenna so his kids can watch F Troop and he can get the odd glimpse of a sexy neighbour naked in her backyard. In short, this is no country for alten Menschen, but it does somehow resemble the East European shtetl depicted in the dark preamble to this bitterly funny, parable-laden film. Okay, there aren’t many Cossacks in Minnesota, but the weather is even worse.