If it's crap ... We'll tell you
There's so much to be said about this movie but it's so hard to put it into words. I suppose that could be said about just about anything directors Joel and Ethan Coen have done. But A Serious Man is by far their most personal and psychological film. It's the story of a man, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), whose life is unravelling right before his eyes. His wife (Sari Lennick) is leaving him for Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), his kids (Aaron Wolff and Jessica McManus) are both unruly and distant, Uncle Arthur (Richard Kind) won't move out of the house and to top it all off, he's being bribed by one of his students (David Kang). He's stuck in a corner and none of the rabbis seem to giving him the advice he wants, but is it the advice he needs?
I love Larry Gopnik. He's one of my favorite characters in film because he's so uncomfortably relatable. His problems are not uncommon but the way he reacts to them is with fear and confusion. Everybody can relate to his frustration, even if they can see that his reactions aren't exactly helping his situation. He just wants his life to be happy and for all of his problems to be settled, but sometimes in order to do that you have accept the problems and move on. That's the basic message of the film, and I love that Larry just doesn't seem to understand it.
This is not a movie to walk into blindly. The first time I saw this, it infuriated me. I went through the whole thing angry, wondering what the point of me watching the movie was. Why should I care about any of these people if they're not going to explain what's going on? And then, months later, it hit me: I am Larry Gopnik. I had been reacting to the film exactly the same way that Larry had been reacting to his life. I had been ignoring what the rabbis in the film were trying to tell me and instead been focusing on the little things that don't matter. In that way, I think this movie is brilliant because it serves as a great example of what it is trying to explain. The Coens are notorious for confusing their audiences and getting them really worked up, and A Serious Man is their response to all of that.
It's hard for me to recommend this, or any Coen brothers film really, because I just don't know how other people will react to it. Personally, I think it's fascinating and possibly the most ingenious film I've ever seen. If you do watch it, just make sure that you are paying very close attention to the message, rather than the story.