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A Serious Man

Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen

Larry Gopnik is having a good old fashioned mid-life crisis. He is a physics professor, and it is safe to say his job is not all he wants it to be. His students seem disinterested and the one that is engaged is trying to bribe him for grades. His teenage children are self involved, imagine that, so he is getting little fulfillment on that front. His wife wants a get, a divorce to us non-jews, and to top that off he had no idea anything was wrong plus she wants to marry his friend. All this seems like drama ripe for entertainment in the hands of the Coens. In my opinion there is little entertainment to be had.

Where I think A Serious Man goes wrong is in it's character development. Besides our protagonist every other character in this film is severely under developed. In fact next to Larry I would say the next most developed character is Clive Park. He is the before mentioned student that tries to bribe Larry for a grade. The two scenes that Larry and Clive have together are the best in the film. This is unfortunate because they are very short, and Clive's situation amounts to little more than a plot device to be used later on in the story arc. Larry's whole family is ripe for drama and terribly underused, but the most egregious example of this his brother Arthur, played by Richard Kind. I was excited to see Kind in this film, however like most of the characters he is in little of the film and we don't get to know him. He has one crucial moment towards the end of the film, but of course nothing much comes of it and we are left wondering what he had to do with anything at all.

What A Serious Man does right, is let us get to know the character of Larry. He is a very quiet unassuming man, yet those around him treat him as if he is the source of all their discomfort and misery. Larry never loses his cool in any of his personal interactions but simply always looks bewildered at whatever situation he is being confronted with. We are waiting for him to explode with emotion, but he never does. There are a couple of times when yet another character has told him to calm down that I wanted to explode for him. Larry is a really good character, unfortunately there is just not enough going on with the characters around him to truly engage us the way we need to be.

I love the Coens, I love almost every film they have done. One of the things that I like best about their films is the characters they create. Even their most seldom used characters always feel like part of the world they are creating. They have nuance, they give us reason to laugh with them, cheer them on, or root against them. That is why this effort is so disappointing to me. A Serious Man is practically unrecognizable as a Coen brother film.