The Coen brothers take their unique brand of dry, black comedy to a whole new level with A Serious Man. Poor Larry Gopnik (a remarkably even-keeled Michael Stuhlbarg) just keeps getting dumped on: His wife, Judith (Sari Lennick), wants to leave him for, of all people, touchy-feely Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed); his brother, Arthur (Richard Kind), keeps hogging the bathroom so he can drain his cyst; his son, Danny (Aaron Wolf), won’t stop complaining that F-Troop isn’t coming in clearly and is constantly on the run from the school drug dealer (Jon Kaminsky Jr.); his daughter, Sarah (Jessica McManus), wants to get a nose job; one of his students (David Kang) has bribed him for a passing grade; his possible tenure appears to be in jeopardy; and he gets no help at all from a series of funnier and funnier rabbis. But Larry keeps on keepin’ on in the Jewish suburbs of Minnesota in 1967, trying to make a go of it as his woes pile higher and higher. Joel and Ethan Coen have crafted one of their best tales yet, nailing the look and feel of the era, from Hebrew school to Bar Mitzvah practice, from office jobs to parking lots, from the Columbia Record Club to transistor radios, from television antennas to the naked neighbor next door. The Coens get so many things right, you won’t mind the handful of mistakes in the film, and because it’s the Coens, who’s to say at least some of those errors weren’t intentional? A Serious Man is a seriously great film, made by a pair of seriously great filmmakers. And while you don’t have to be Jewish and from Minnesota to fall in love with it, it sure can’t hurt.
A Serious Man is screening at Film Forum on February 1 as part of a week-long tribute to Joel and Ethan, consisting of most of their older movies and a pair of film-related concert documentaries, leading up to a sneak preview of their latest, Hail, Caesar! For more than thirty years, the Coens have been capturing the American zeitgeist like no one else, penetrating deep into the psyche of the country, doing so in a wide variety of genres. The series skips over Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers, and Burn After Reading, but the rest of their oeuvre is present and accounted for, from the creepy, atmospheric Blood Simple and Barton Fink to the mad humor of The Hudsucker Proxy and Raising Arizona, from the brutal Westerns No Country for Old Men and True Grit to the gangster picture Miller’s Crossing, in addition to their cult masterpiece, The Big Lebowski. Things get going on January 28 with the beautifully elegant Fargo, followed by a Q&A with Joel and Ethan. D. A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, and Nick Doob will be at Film Forum on February 3 for a showing of their concert film Down from the Mountain, featuring the music from O Brother, Where Art Thou?