Seriously? That’s what I thought when I heard the Coen Brothers film announced as an Oscar nominee for best picture. It’s out on DVD now and I have to admit I saw it a while ago but I struggled with my review because all I wanted to say about it was “I hated it.” I can’t help but think that if anybody but Joel and Ethan Coen (Academy darlings that they are) had made this movie, it would never have been nominated for an Academy Award.
A Serious Man chronicles the woes of one Larry Gopnik, a mild-mannered Jewish physics professor living in the mid-western suburbs in the late 1960s. Larry is surrounded by ungrateful, unlikeable characters and he is continually tested by their bad behavior and his bad luck. His wife is leaving him for a pompous neighbor; his teenage daughter is stealing money from his wallet to save for a nose job; his soon to be bar mitzvahed son is smoking pot and slacking off in Hebrew school; his unemployed and inept brother is living with him and hogging the bathroom to endlessly drain his sebaceous cyst; an anonymous letter-writer is trashing him to the tenure committee at the college and to top it all off the Columbia Record Club is harassing him about paying for albums his son ordered without his knowledge. Gopnik’s life is spiraling out of control and he seems unwilling or unable to do something to stop it. All he can do is ask “Why me?” So he consults three different Rabbis for guidance but they give him none. You just want to smack him and shout “Stand up for yourself man!”
I understand that the movie is supposed to be based on the Book of Job, but I for one did not find pleasure in watching Gopnik suffer… and suffer… and suffer… without questioning. It was frankly soul-sucking. And I’m not even going to talk about the weird Yiddish-language fable that opens the movie. I know some critics adored this film and obviously the Academy sees something in it. Perhaps I am not “serious” enough to get the humor in it? I see where they are going but I don’t want to go with them. The only nice thing I can say about it is that Michael Stuhlbarg did give an outstanding performance as the feckless Gopnik. Too bad I just couldn’t stand watching it.
If you are one of those people who just must see all of the Best Picture nominees, then well, I guess you must. For anyone else, I’d say don’t bother suffering through it.