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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

A Serious Man (2009)



Reviews and Comments

The Coen Brothers lost me on this one. I don't think it's their fault. This movie is as technically proficient as any of their works, and it has the same brutally black humor that permeate many of them (although here it is lower key than usual). It exhibits the same defiance of conventional story structures that Barton Fink and No Country For Old Men did -- both movies I love -- and bears a thematic (but not stylistic) resemblance to the minor but hilarious Burn After Reading, which ends with a character asking what they've learned from the film's events and unable to come up with an answer.

I think the problem is that I simply was not sympathetic to the main character. I didn't like him, respect him, or care for him in any way. This isn't inherently problematic, but the movie, which is all about how a life can get out of control, seems to expect us to empathize with his plight. I can't. I kept wanting to slap the guy and tell him to take charge of things. My frustrations blunted the impact of the humor, which would normally fit with my sensibilities. (I loved the dark humor of The Accidental Tourist, for example, also an understated comedy of misfortune.) Individual moments sparkle, but I found the film as a whole a dull and dreary experience.

It's entirely possible I just don't get what the Coens were trying to do. They rank with my favorite filmmakers, and it's clear that, at least from a technical standpoint, they're at the top of their game. But this movie held no magic for me.