Published Sep 15, 2009A Serious Man is a serious film from the Coen brothers despite their clearly deliberate attempts to amuse themselves. In what is being described as the most personal work of their careers, the Coens take their audience to a Midwestern, mostly Jewish suburban community, not unlike the one where they grew up themselves.
The Gopnick family, headed by the hapless and thankless Larry Gopnick (celebrated stage actor Michael Stuhlbarg, a relative unknown on the big screen), is not unlike the one they grew up with. Realistically speaking, the film isn't very different from past work. Writing from experience though brings an unexpected relatable quality that's definitely unlike their usual fare.
Larry Gopnick is just trying to do right by himself, his God and his fellow man. He hardly proclaims to be perfect, nor does he strive to achieve it; he just takes it day by day and does the best he can. That is, until his best is no longer good enough. The Coens, having based the character on an amalgamation of their parents and other people they knew from the neighbourhood, take great satisfaction in torturing their protagonist more and more.
His wife wants to leave him; his son is doing drugs; his daughter is pilfering cash from his wallet to save up for a nose job; and these are the least of his worries. The more that's put upon him, the more sympathetic Gopnick becomes and Stuhlbarg carries this mammoth burden with a constant awe that is hilarious, endearing and most importantly, unforgettable.
Gopnick's struggles grow into a complete lack of understanding as to how he managed to fall so far from where he thought he was, and whether God is actually behind it all. If by "God" he means the Coens then, yes, they most certainly are behind every moment. (Alliance)