Joel and Ethan Coen’s Latest, A Serious Man, is a portrait of a period (1967) and place (Minnesota) and milieu (Jewish) that the brothers know very well. They cast it with excellent actors; Richard Kind as pathetic Uncle Arthur and Adam Arkin as a well-heeled lawyer are probably the only recognizable names. The writer-directors start the movie off in a wintry shtetl, evoking the dread spirit the dybbuk hovering over an uneasy marriage. This movie is utterly assured, personal, serious, sad and very funny.
The Coens are in top form. And they leave us with yet another brilliant provocative ending. How will the movie do? I don’t care. With strong reviews, modestly well, I’d say. Will A Serious Man be in the Oscar race? With ten slots, maybe. Focus will push the movie out slowly. Woody Allen’s Jewish comedies have been soft lobs down the middle for the Academy for years. Writing and directing are likely noms. The discovery here is theater actor Michael Stuhlbarg, who carries the movie and pulls off the challenge of being a schlep, nebbish, schmuck and honorable man all at the same time. I can relate to his anxieties about family, money, tenure and lack of control over every aspect of his life. As things pile on, his Job-like sufferings are hilarious. And serious.