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Toronto Day Two: The Coens Deliver with A Serious Man

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 11, 2009 at 9:51AM

Joel and Ethan Coen's Latest, A Serious Man, is a portrait of a period (1967) and place (Minnesota) and milieu (Jewish) that the brothers know very well. They cast it with excellent actors; Richard Kind as pathetic Uncle Arthur and Adam Arkin as a well-heeled lawyer are probably the only recognizable names. The writer-directors start the movie off in a wintry shtetl, evoking the dread spirit the dybbuk hovering over an uneasy marriage. This movie is utterly assured, personal, serious, sad and very funny.
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Thompson on Hollywood

Joel and Ethan Coen's Latest, A Serious Man, is a portrait of a period (1967) and place (Minnesota) and milieu (Jewish) that the brothers know very well. They cast it with excellent actors; Richard Kind as pathetic Uncle Arthur and Adam Arkin as a well-heeled lawyer are probably the only recognizable names. The writer-directors start the movie off in a wintry shtetl, evoking the dread spirit the dybbuk hovering over an uneasy marriage. This movie is utterly assured, personal, serious, sad and very funny.

The Coens are in top form. And they leave us with yet another brilliant provocative ending. How will the movie do? I don't care. With strong reviews, modestly well, I'd say. Will A Serious Man be in the Oscar race? With ten slots, maybe. Focus will push the movie out slowly. Woody Allen's Jewish comedies have been soft lobs down the middle for the Academy for years. Writing and directing are likely noms. The discovery here is theater actor Michael Stuhlbarg, who carries the movie and pulls off the challenge of being a schlep, nebbish, schmuck and honorable man all at the same time. I can relate to his anxieties about family, money, tenure and lack of control over every aspect of his life. As things pile on, his Job-like sufferings are hilarious. And serious.

This article is related to: Festivals, Reviews, Awards, Directors, Studios, Stuck In Love, Oscars, Coens, Toronto, Universal/Focus Features, Screenwriters


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.