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A Serious Man Archives -

A Serious Man Archives -

Ted Faraone


2009/10/02 at 12:00am

A Serious Man

Rated: R for language, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence.
Release Date: 2009-10-02
Starring: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Film Genre:
Country: USA
Official Website: NULL

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A Serious Man

The brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, a filmmaker duo who have brought to the screen an amazing variety of pics, from the over-the-top “chainsaw massacre-style” “Blood Simple” of 1984 through the extraordinarily annoying “Fargo” to the superbly funny “Burn After Reading,” have at last decided to make a serous pic.  That it opened the inaugural Friars Club Comedy Film Festival in New York does not make it a comedy.  The Friars chose it for the marquee value of the Coens, which was a good move.  “A Serious Man,” for which the duo share director, writer, and producer credit (Ethan is also production designer and editor, credited as Roderick James), is a drama in disguise, a drama performed by comedic actors. That doesn’t make it a bad picture.  It just makes it difficult to review.  That every other notice your critic has read seems to follow the press notes is testimony to that.
The Coens have been making feature films for 25 years.  Working for them is almost a right of passage for top-tier Hollywood thesps.  “A Serious Man” is an anomaly in that there are only two publicly recognizable names in the cast:  Fyvush Finkel (who appears only in the opening reel) and (Richard Kind, who ably carries about a fourth of the film).  Remainder of cast turn in excellent, if annoying performances and it is a credit to the Coens that they were able to find such excellent, inexpensive talent – Pic has a reported budget of $7 million.
Performances are annoying because of pic’s nature.  It’s about annoying people.  Set, except for opening reel which may or may not be connected to pic’s central action (a device used by Jean-Luc Goddard in the 1985 “Hail Mary” [Je Vous Salue, Marie”]), in a suburban Midwestern Conservative Jewish community in 1967, pic centers on college professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), pic’s schlemiel (the fellow on whom the soup is spilled).  Gopnick is surrounded by schlimazels (folks who spill the soup).  They include his wife (Sari Lennick), who leaves him for passive-aggressive neighbor Sy Abelman (Fred Melamed), his kids, Danny, a Bar-Mitzvah boy, and Sarah (Aaron Wolf and Jessica McManus), and brother Arthur (Richard Kind), a mathematical genius with tendencies to moral turpitude.  Gopnick’s quest, if one could call it that, is to find out why his luck stinks.  A real answer to such a question could function on interminable levels and still leave the questioner dizzy.  At least give Gopnik credit for making the best of things between moments of despair. Instead, “A Serious Man” takes the route well travelled by Woody Allen (“Crimes and Misdemeanors”) and author Isaac Bashevis Singer.  The twist is that it is loaded with comedic moments.  It is almost as if the filmmakers were winking at the audience.
Gopnick is stymied at every turn.  Not even the elderly senior rabbi at his synagogue will advise him.  Everyone else in pic either talks over him or at him intending either to manipulate (Sy Abelman) or cover their ignorance (his lawyer, ably played by Adam Arkin, and the two younger rabbis).  His kids have their own agenda, and brother (Richard Kind) is a millstone.  Nobody communicates, with the possible exception of neighbor Mrs. Samsky (the smoking hot Amy Landecker) and near the end, the elderly Rabbi Marshak (Alan Mandell).
A subplot involving the pothead Bar Mitzvah boy who owes his connection $20, the Hebrew school teacher, and the elderly rabbi, is pic’s Rosetta Stone.  The boy tucks $20 into his transistor radio case in Hebrew school and tries to pass it on to the connection, seated a row ahead of him.  Teacher catches him and confiscates radio.  Boy lives in fear of connection for rest of pic until his Bar Mitzvah, in which his performance and the lensing make one of the funniest stoned-out-of-one’s-mind Bar Mitzvah scenes in filmdom, owing a bit to the wedding in “The Graduate” for the guest reaction shots.  After ceremony, boy is invited to meet privately with Rabbi Marshak.  The old man quotes a Jefferson Airplane tune asking the boy what he’s going to do when everything goes wrong and there’s no hope.  There’s no answer.  He then hands him his transistor radio with the $20 bill still tucked in the leather case.  It’s pic’s most honest moment – a bit like the moment in “Husbands and Wives” where Allen’s documentarian encounters the existential thought of Prof. Louis Levy (Martin S. Bergmann).
“A Serious Man” excels in performance, cinematography, set design (they nailed a period piece) and dialogue, if one can call it that.  Editing and direction are economical, except for the opening reel, which begs the question, “Is this family cursed or has the opening reel nothing to do with anything else?”  It’s one of pic’s many loose ends.  Said loose ends both serve a point and annoy.  One learns from “A Serious Man” the idea that life happens and one has to roll with it. One also learns that schlimazels are not immune to bad luck.  One would wish that Hollywood vets the Coens could have tied it up in a tighter package.  One may also wish that the Coens had a slightly lighter touch – the feather duster instead of the hammer – but perfection is a lot to ask.
One last note:  There has been criticism of pic’s seemingly negative focus on a Jewish community.  It is unwarranted.  The Jewish community is simply context.  Moreover, it is context the Coens know.  Pic’s message, if there is one, is better told through the intellectually Jewish prism through which both Singer and Allen have worked so well.  It could equally have been told through the French existentialist prism, but that might not go down so well with American auds.  At least viewers reared on sitcoms can understand it.  At 105 minutes this Focus Features release is not rated, but due to nudity, language, and adult situations, it is probably unsuitable for children.

Jack Rico


2008/09/08 at 12:00am

‘A Serious Man’ from the Coen brothers begins production

'A Serious Man' from the Coen brothers begins production

NEW YORK, September 8th, 2008 – Production begins today on location in Minnesota on A Serious Man, for Focus Features and Working Title Films. Joel and Ethan Coen, Academy Award winners for No Country for Old Men and Fargo, are writing, producing, and directing the film. Working Title co-chairs Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner are executive-producing the film with Robert Graf, who has worked on the Coens’ last six features in various producing capacities.
The director of photography on A Serious Man is seven-time Academy Award nominee Roger Deakins, who is marking his tenth feature collaboration with the Coens. Mary Zophres is the film’s costume designer, marking her ninth feature collaboration with the Coens. Jess Gonchor is the production designer, marking his third feature collaboration with the Coens.
A Serious Man is the story of an ordinary man’s search for clarity in a universe where Jefferson Airplane is on the radio and F-Troop is on TV. It is 1967, and Larry Gopnik, a physics professor at a quiet midwestern university, has just been informed by his wife Judith that she is leaving him. She has fallen in love with one of his more pompous colleagues, Sy Ableman, who seems to her a more substantial person than the feckless Larry. Larry’s unemployable brother Arthur is sleeping on the couch, his son Danny is a discipline problem and a shirker at Hebrew school, and his daughter Sarah is filching money from his wallet in order to save up for a nose job. While his wife and Sy Ableman blithely make new domestic arrangements, and his brother becomes more and more of a burden, an anonymous hostile letter-writer is trying to sabotage Larry’s chances for tenure at the university. Also, a graduate student seems to be trying to bribe him for a passing grade while at the same time threatening to sue him for defamation. Plus, the beautiful woman next door torments him by sunbathing nude. Struggling for equilibrium, Larry seeks advice from three different rabbis. Can anyone help him cope with his afflictions and become a righteous person – a mensch – a serious man?

Tony Award nominee Michael Stuhlbarg (whose films include The Grey Zone) stars as Larry; Fred Melamed (Suspect) plays Sy; Richard Kind (The Visitor) portrays Arthur; and Minnesota actors Aaron Wolf, Sari Wagner, and Jessica McManus are cast as Danny, Judith, and Sarah, respectively.
The Coens’ comedy thriller Burn After Reading, also from Focus Features and Working Title Films, world-premiered last month as the opening-night film of the 2008 Venice International Film Festival; made its North American premiere last week at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival; and will be released by Focus nationwide on Friday, September 12th. The film stars George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, and Brad Pitt.
Focus president of production John Lyons, who is overseeing A Serious Man and oversaw Burn After Reading on behalf of the company, has previously collaborated with the Coen brothers extensively, as casting director on their features Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo and The Big Lebowski.
Messrs. Bevan and Fellner have also had a long association with the Coens; Fargo (which won Oscars for Ms. McDormand as Best Actress and for the Coens in the Original Screenplay category), The Hudsucker Proxy, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (for which Mr. Clooney won a Golden Globe Award), The Man Who Wasn’t There, and Burn After Reading were all made by the Coens with Working Title. Working Title Films is Europe’s leading film production company, making movies that defy boundaries as well as demographics.
Currently in post-production at Working Title are a record number of films: Beeban Kidron’s Hippie Hippie Shake, starring Cillian Murphy, Sienna Miller, Emma Booth, and Max Minghella; Kevin Macdonald’s State of Play, starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Robin Wright Penn, and Helen Mirren; Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, adapted by Peter Morgan from his play of the same name and starring Frank Langella and Michael Sheen; Joe Wright’s The Soloist, starring Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey, Jr., and Catherine Keener; Richard Curtis’ The Boat That Rocked, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, and  Nick Frost; and Paul Greengrass’ untitled thriller starring Matt Damon.
Focus Features ( exists to produce, acquire and distribute original and daring films that challenge the mainstream to embrace and enjoy voices and visions from around the world that deliver global commercial success.
In addition to A Serious Man and Burn After Reading, upcoming Focus Features releases include Henry Selick’s 3-D stop-motion animated feature Coraline, starring Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher; Shane Acker’s animated fantasy epic 9, starring Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly; Cary Fukunaga’s immigrant thriller Sin Nombre; writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s new film, tentatively titled The Limits of Control, starring Isaach De Bankolé; a contemporary comedy directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes and starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph; Taking Woodstock, the new film from Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee; and Gus Van Sant’s Milk, starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk.

Mack Chico


2008/08/20 at 12:00am

‘A Serious Man’ – Coen brothers’ new film is cast

'A Serious Man' - Coen brothers' new film is cast

The Coen brothers have tapped a pair of relative unknowns to star in their next pic, “A Serious Man.”

Michael Stuhlbarg, a Tony-nominated actor with little experience in front of the cameras, and Richard Kind, a character actor best known for his role on ABC’s “Spin City,” will star as brothers in the period black comedy.

Set in 1967, story centers on Larry Gopnik (Stuhlbarg), a Midwestern professor whose life begins to unravel when his wife sets out to leave him and his socially inept brother (Kind) won’t move out of the house.

Shooting is set to start at the beginning of next month in Minneapolis.

Working Title is producing, and Focus Features will distribute.

Joel and Ethan Coen, whose George ClooneyBrad Pitt starrer Burn After Reading will open next month, penned the screenplay for “A Serious Man” and are sharing producing duties. Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner exec produce.

Stuhlbarg, who has made guest appearances on “Law & Order” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” was nominated for a Tony for his role in “The Pillowman” and starred in the title role of this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park production of “Hamlet.”

He is repped by manager Lisa Loosemoore.

Kind’s credits include “For Your Consideration,” “The Station Agent” and “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and the TV series “Mad About You.”

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