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Coen Brothers' A Serious Man mundane 

The Coens' bleak movie about cosmic disappointments is, uh, a bit of a letdown.

The common Coen brothers scenario of good peoples’ lives ruined by bad choices is flipped in A Serious Man. Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a good person whose trauma is that he makes no new choices. The metaphor is made plain: As a math professor, Larry insists that equations must provide certainty. A Simple Man delves into the mystery of bad luck. But the movie’s bleakness lacks the pop fizzle and moral overview that made No Country for Old Men and Burn After Reading so thrilling. Establishing Jewish faith and family in experienced, though near-vaudevillian caricatures, the last half has Larry visit three rabbis, testing his belief against his cosmic disappointment. The filmmakers accentuate repetition over story (the colleague who tells Larry his tenure is under review, the Korean kid who wants his grade changed, the Columbia House representative that won’t stop phoning). That’s a brave approach, but the film winds up presenting mundane existence in mundane term---the Coens keep us outside looking in. Larry’s spiritual crisis doesn’t attain its demanded empathy, leaving A Serious Man as a lesser work by great artists.


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