Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pose Reviews A Movie. #3: A Serious Man (2009)

The Coen Brothers have done it again.

It’s amazing to me how those boys can not only churn out solid movie after solid movie, but that they can do it so quickly. The Brothers Coen are currently on an unstoppable three-year winning streak, having released No Country for Old Men in 2007, Burn After Reading in 2008, A Serious Man in 2009. (And the forthcoming True Grit is set for release this year.) It’s extremely impressive that not only are Joel and Ethan (the affectionately nicknamed “two-headed director”) quality filmmakers, but they’re also incredibly efficient. But A Serious Man does not come off as rushed or poorly thought-out, despite being the Coens’ third film in as many years. In fact, it’s nothing short of exceptional.

The key to watching this particular cinematic endeavor is an appreciation for dark comedy. Reeeal dark. The film can come off as a fairly colossal downer without this perspective, since it centres around a protagonist, Larry Gopnik (played flawlessly by Michael Stuhlbarg), whose life is slowly going to hell in a hand basket.

Actually, scratch that. A breadbasket.

Nah, that’s still a little small. His life is going to hell in a wooden keg.

Without giving too much away, Larry Gopnik is facing divorce, career sabotage, and mountainous financial trouble, while his brother and son add to his burdens with problems of their own. It doesn’t sound particularly uplifting, but there’s comedic value in the way the film portrays Larry’s struggle, and in a way, there is almost humour to be found in the sheer volume of crap that he has to deal with. And that’s where A Serious Man becomes a profound statement on “life.”

I have to put “life” in quotation marks, because to describe something, anything, as being “about life” tends to sound stupid right out of the gate. But A Serious Man puts a lot of things in perspective as the film progresses, and can even be therapeutic in its implicit commentary on the (often confused) priorities of (often confused) North Americans.

Although the film is set in and around 1970, its message is timeless: shit happens. But it happens to everyone, and the magnitude of it is often misunderstood. The moment we can find humour in a situation like Larry Gopnik’s is the moment we can face our own struggles with a more level-headed outlook. Ironically, A Serious Man serves to encourage the viewer to take things a little less seriously.

But in addition to being an awesome life experience, A Serious Man is also a genuinely well-made movie. It is exceptionally cast, and functions as a charming period piece nodding nostalgically to suburban life in the 1970s. And the Coens definitely deserve that Best Original Screenplay nomination at the Oscars this year, even if Quentin Tarantino takes the win for Inglorious Basterds.

Overall, A Serious Man is a well-rounded, deeply layered piece of dark comedy with transferable value to everyday “life.” I’d highly recommend it, and I think you should probably watch it tonight.


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