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George At 

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A Serious Man

Joel and Ethan Coen have made many of my favorite films of all time, including "No Country for Old Men", "Fargo", "Blood Simple", the list goes on. So this year, I am going back to catch all of their films I haven't seen yet.

I just started with their 2009 Comedy/Drama A SERIOUS MAN.

The film starts off with an old Jewish fable, told entirely in Yiddish with subtitles involving an old couple and a "dybbuk" or malicious spirit. It's by turns clever, spooky and funny.

Then we move forward to 1967, where Larry Gopnick (Michael Stuhlbarg) a mild-mannered college physics professor is watching his life unravel, one strand at a time.

His wife has fallen in love with one of their mutual friends and wants a divorce, his son is nearing his bar mitzvah but is far more interested in getting the right channels on TV and smoking pot, his daughter is an unhinged teen and his brother Arthur spends most of the day locked in the bathroom draining a cyst on his neck.

A great life this isn't, but the Coen brothers, as always, wring every bit of laughs and realistic drama out of Larry's situation.

Larry decides to see three different rabbis for advice and the film treats each of these meetings as a major event, with Carter Burwell's ominous music swelling over a title card announcing THE FIRST RABBI and poor Larry collapsing under the weight of his trials.

Richard Kind (Curb Your Enthusiasm) brings real laughs and tragedy to Uncle Arthur, whose carrying a lot more than that cyst around on his shoulders.

Note Larry's neighbors. One serves to represent his lust and the other is the only non-Jewish family in the neighborhood, a stereotypical midwestern hunter and his family who even arrive home one day with a bloodied animal strapped to the roof.

For the entire movie, the neighbor says nothing to Larry that doesn't ooze scorn. Then Larry gets a visit from the father of a student and the neighbor comes without hesitation to Larry's aid. For a moment, you think this is a redemption of the neighbor, then a moment later you grasp his motivation for jumping in and realize he's even more reprehensible than you thought.

Actions have consequences and the Coens seem to also be stressing that Gopnick's inaction in his own life drives dire consequences as well.

Perfectly written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the film doesn't offer easy movie-of-the-week solutions to the emotions in play. The more the Rabbis dole out that God works in mysterious ways, the more life shows Larry in dramatic fashion that all roads dont lead to happiness.

The ending is dramatic, powerful and yet not an ending at all, somehow the perfect conclusion to Larry's unending trials.

This is smart, flawless film making from our most talented writer/directors working today.

A SERIOUS MAN is seriously great and gets an A.

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