A Serious Man

Rated 3.0

It’s the story of a schlemiel who hopes to be a mensch, but only suffers for his efforts. In a Jewish enclave of suburban late-’60s Minnesota, reportedly very similar to the one in which writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen grew up, a timidly put-upon middle-class assimilate (Michael Stuhlbarg) discovers his life to be coming apart. Is the suffering his own fault? His family’s? His neighbors’? God’s? No, it’s the Coen brothers’. They’re pitiless. They’re like children torturing a small animal. For an audience. Of unpleasant Jews. What had they hoped to extract from this particular plot of personal history? Maybe they did intend a satirically affectionate commemoration, or even a Voltairean denunciation of faith-based optimism, but in any case, what they’ve made seems more like some sort of long-deferred, oddly disciplined tantrum.