I've watched it a few times now, and even though I still don't have it all figured out (as if one is even supposed to), things become a little less hazy with each viewing. This is a great type of film to discuss long after it has ended.
The Coens have made some strange and off-the-wall films, but this one may just take the cake. In terms of style, it most closely resembles The Man Who Wasn't There. That was their most serious film. This one is also quite serious, and very dark, but there's still some humor, much like how No Country For Old Men had humor, even if it was subtle. Had I understood more of the references, I probably would have found it even funnier, but as it stands, I still laughed a bit throughout, even if I did so in an awkward and uneasy way.
Some of this film escaped me, as I am not Jewish, but, as a Catholic, I found myself relating to some things, as Catholic guilt and Jewish guilt are very similar, and the interactions Larry has with the Rabbis are similar to things I've experienced from being Catholic.
This is an odd and awkward film, but I think that's why I liked it. It's not so obtuse and out there in a David Lynch kind of way, but this is definitely a film for a limited audience. One reviewer on here (hypathio7) called it the New Fiddler on the Roof- something that actually fits quite well. I see it as a loose take on The Book of Job, but Fiddler works too.
The look of this film is just fantastic. Aesthetically and with the decor and stuff...wow...big noses, huge glasses...the hairstyles....the clothes...the cars...everything is top notch. They nailed the look of the late 60s perfectly. The music rules too, I love that Jefferson Airplane figures prominently into things, and works as a pay off to a great joke.
As should be expected, the writing, direction, and camera work are top-notch. Some have said that this is the type of movie you get to make after winning an Oscar. I agree. Burn After Reading was done after they won the Oscar, but after that, the Coens went all in on this, and as a result, have created one of their most astounding, meaty, and thought provoking films.
The performances are dynamite, and I like that the two most well known actors in the film are only like medium well known in the mainstream (Kind and Arkin). It was fun seeing Lerner in a brief cameo too (he has previously worked with the Coens for those who didn't know). Using unknowns for the rest of the cast was an excellent decision. I hope to see them in more films in the future.
Drawing on the counterculture, many aspects of Jewish culture and religion, personal experiences (although this film is not autobiographical), math and physics, and a ton of other stuff, this film is some heavy shit, but it's not ponderous, pretentious, or boring, even if it is rather slow. Yeah, it's not for everyone, but for those that can get on the wavelength, there is a lot of greatness to be found here.