Review- "A Serious Man": Modern-day Book of Job. With Laughs.

The Coens' latest film finally comes to Syracuse.

When Murphy’s Law is kicking into high gear and everything in your life that can go wrong is, what then?  Do you find comfort in laughing at the even greater misfortunes of others?  If you do, go see A Serious Man, the new black comedy by Joel and Ethan Coen.

It is not a solemn, violent epic like No Country for Old Men.  Nor is it an attempt at screwball comedy like Burn After Reading.  Instead, A Serious Man sets the Book of Job, with more laughs, in a 1960s Jewish neighborhood in Minnesota.  The Coens re-create the bleak, washed-out color palette they remember from their childhood. 

Here, Job is physics professor Larry Gopnik, played pitch perfect by Michael Stuhlbarg.  His idyllic life in this modern shtetl is crumbling. 

His wife Judith is leaving him for Sy Ableman, (that schmaltzy nudje.)

His brother Arthur is monopolizing the bathroom to drain his neck goyder.  (Get a job, you schlub.) 

His daughter Sarah is filching money from his wallet (for a nose job!)

His son Danny is doing the same for weed.  (Study for your bar mitzvah!)

An Asian student is bribing him to get a higher grade.  (I’m tryin’ to get tenure!)

And, the Columbia Record Club wants payment for its unsolicited mailings. (Can’t they leave a mensch alone?!) 

            Other storytellers might reward Larry for his steadfastness in the face of adversity, but the Coens keep their Job suffering.  Their onscreen whirlwind has an opening in Yiddish, un-subtitled Hebrew school scenes, and disorienting dream sequences filled with walls of mathematical formulas and Jefferson Airplane tunes.  

            Far from unsettling, this film, despite its cast full of unknowns and script full of Jewish references, is remarkably poignant and familiar, even to this goy.

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