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"A Serious Man" and Serious Layoffs.

by Eric Kohn
September 28, 2009 1:16 AM
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Is Michael Stuhlbarg the face of modern times?

I've always enjoyed the Coen brothers in one fashion or another, even when their movies are uneven or hopelessly muddled, simply because of the sheer individualistic zest that they bring to each project. A Serious Man, however, needs no disclaimers. This movie is a darkly comic blast that takes spirited jabs at religion while smartly avoiding polemics, and generates real emotional weight and pathos for its put-upon lead that suggest a greater depth than anything in the Coens' output since Fargo (although you could make the case for No Country, but it's certainly a lot more monotonous). Of course, the restrictive Jewish community setting at the heart of Serious hit close to home for me, so I can only view it through the lens of my upbringing. But I see no reason to set aside subjectivity here. My review ran a few weeks back.

Much of the movie's power comes from Michael Stuhlbarg's performance as Larry Gopnik, a guy apparently incapable of having one good day in his life. I profiled Stuhlbarg, a veteran Broadway actor getting his big movie break with this role, in the current issue of New York magazine.

Although the movie takes place in 1967, I can't help thinking of Larry Gopnik as a resolutely modern character. He's a harmless shlub, neurotic but ultimately likable, and tries his darnedest to do the right thing. (If only he knew what that was.) These days, with Americans fretting over the economy and learning from Michael Moore's new documentary that they did this to themselves, it seems as though, in one form or another, we are all Larry Gopnik. Just last week, as I put the finishing touches on my Stuhlbarg profile, I learned of two casualties of the economy that gave me pause. CineVegas's Mike Plante has done a tremendous job with the festival during the last two years that I've attended, and I was dismayed to learn that the festival's "hiatus" in 2010 means that Plante needs some other things to do with his time now. The guy has great taste for adventurous indie cinema and deserves the right outlet for championing it. Speaking of specialties, my mother has been an off-and-on classical music radio DJ for decades, and lost her position as an announcer at Seattle's KING FM last week. Neither of these people did anything to deserve their current situations, but like Larry Gopnik, they simply have to deal with their troubles and keep on moving. And I have no doubt that they will.

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