A Serious Man

Rated 5.0

Even with its relentlessly gloomy storyline, the latest Coen brothers picture is surprisingly light on its feet. The central figure is Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a college physics professor who lives with his not-so-happy wife, two sassy teenaged kids, and a ne’er-do-well uncle in a Minnesota suburb in the early 1960s. Larry’s Job-like accumulation of woes is what passes for a central plot-thread, but the film’s liveliest appeal resides in its devastatingly comical parade of incisive and succinctly observed characterizations. Plus, there’s a beguiling narrative abundance in all this. A folk-tale-like prologue sets the overall mood of darkly comical paradox, and the unfolding episodic accounts of Larry’s misfortunes—large and small; at home, at work; and in everything that might matter, emotionally and spiritually, to “a serious man” like him—are further richened by digressions, stories within stories, parallel tales, and the occasional wacko dream sequence. A half dozen scenes in the film are little masterpieces in what amounts to an ingeniously astute and surprisingly heartfelt gallery of portraits of passive-aggressive manipulators, each of them acting in the guise of conventional well-meaning friends, neighbors, colleagues. Tinseltown. Rated R