Drama | 105 mins
“When the truth is found to be lies,
and all the joy within you dies…”
Bleeding through a single earbud into Danny Gopnik’s skull, the Jefferson Airplane lyrics not only set the timeline for this story, they set the tone for the tale that unfolds.
It’s 1967 in Minnesota. Danny (Aaron Wolff) is a young teenager growing up in a Jewish family. Approaching his Bar Mitzvah, Danny attends a Hebrew school, watches “F Troop” on the static ridden television in his bedroom and has a slightly concerning obsession with marijuana. His father, Larry, (Michael Stuhlbarg) is who you would call the main character of the story. Other than being a professor of physics, you can describe this poor fellow simply by listing his problems. Meanwhile, he’s trying desperately to keep his composure to earn tenure at his university. When Larry turns to his religion for guidance, he finds little more than comic relief. This is a story about men. Larry and Danny take us to the place and time of the filmmakers’ childhood and show us what growing up Jewish in Minnesota meant.
As the 15th installment to their legacy, this story seems a bit unorthodox for the Coen brothers’ style. For one thing, there are no handguns and little blood is shed. Yet somehow, it is authentic Coen brothers. Maybe it’s the subtle, dark humor cross-stitched throughout the exposition, or the planned randomness of scenes tirelessly working at a common theme that signals their collaborative seal. And this review would not be complete without mentioning the dynamic imagery of cinematographer Roger Deakins; a match made in heaven with the Coen brothers brand.
A serious film? After getting a lot of beef for moving away from the “serious” tone of “No Country” with “Burn After Reading,” “A Serious Man” would certainly appear to be a shift to what the critics want. But everything in “Burn After Reading” is in attendance for “A Serious Man.” The balance between the comedy and seriousness of storytelling is simply shifted. “A Serious Man” proves that the Coen Brothers are masters of both. More importantly, they are masters of cinema, and no film of theirs should be overlooked.