Oscarthon: Best Picture- A Serious Man

A ten part series on the Best Picture nominees, structured around four basic questions.

Part 8: A Serious Man

Was It Any Good?

There's a moment in A Serious Man when Michael Stuhlbarg, as a put-upon Jewish physics professor with his life falling apart, goes to the second of three rabbis for counsel. The rabbi tells him a story of a dentist confronted with a bewildering mystery, one that turned out to have no answer. A frustrated Stuhlbarg asks "Why even tell me the story?!"

As much as I like the Coen Bros., I have to say: seconded.

A Serious Man is executed well, and clearly complete in its nostalgia for the suburbs of Minneapolis in 1967, but I was sort of left wondering why we were bothering to visit. There are questions raised, but little pontificating and no answers at all.

The "black comedy" seems to be mostly terrible things happening to Stuhlbarg's character, as well as interminably long pacing while we wait for old Jewish people to speak- a very similar scene late in Intolerable Cruelty makes me think the Coens and I differ greatly in how funny we think old men wheezing for breath happen to be.

Would I See It Again?

Nyet. No thank you, I'm afraid. Is this the license the Coen brothers are granted after winning four Oscars apiece? An inscrutable labor of love to their own childhoods that's as dour and humorless as they seem to be in interviews?

It would help if the film were focused to Stuhlbarg alone, but several scenes follow his pothead son about to have his bar mitzvah- I can't think of any reason the story necessitates that we follow him at all, other than that the directors were about his age at the time that's depicted.

What Did It Acheive?

Well, 87% of critics disagree with me in general, according to Rotten Tomatoes, and enough AMPAS voters as well. And beyond any issues I had, it's certainly a finely crafted movie, with Roger Deakins beautiful framing and the ever popular "Roderick Jaynes" cutting together one great sequence in the middle (during the second rabbi's story).

Will I Remember It Years From Now?

Not in particular. Maybe it would speak to me more if I were religious myself, but I found it empty.

Sure, there's a universal idea there- as Stuhlbarg says, "Why Me?" But I get enough of that movie outside of the theater.

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