Sunday, September 13, 2009

Black Sheep TIFF Review: A SERIOUS MAN

A SERIOUS MAN is a serious film from the Coen brothers despite their clearly deliberate attempts to amuse themselves. In what is being described as the most personal work of their careers, the Coen’s take their audience to a Mid-Western, mostly Jewish, suburban community, not unlike the one where they grew up themselves. The Gopnick family, headed by the hapless and thankless, Larry Gopnick (relative unknown on the screen but a celebrated stage actor, Michael Stuhlbarg), is not unlike the household they grew up in. Realistically speaking, the film itself is not so much unlike their past work. Writing from experience though brings an unexpected relatable quality that is definitely unlike their usual fare.

Larry Gopnick is just trying to do right by himself, his God and his fellow man. He hardly proclaims to be perfect, nor does he strive to achieve it; he just takes it day by day and does the best he can. This is, he does this until his best is no longer good enough. The Coen’s, having based the character on an amalgamation of their parents and other people they knew from the neighborhood, seem to be taking great satisfaction in torturing their protagonist more and more. His wife wants to leave him; his son is doing drugs; his daughter is pilfering cash from his wallet to save up for a nose job and these are the least of his worries. The more that is put upon him, the more sympathetic Gopnick becomes and Stuhlbarg carries this mammoth burden in a constant awe that is hilarious, endearing and most importantly, unforgettable.

Gopnick’s struggles grow into a complete lack of understanding how he managed to fall so far from where he thought he was and whether God is actually behind it all. If by God, he means the Coen’s, then yes, they most certainly are behind every moment.

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