A Serious Man

2009

A Serious Man

Critics Consensus

Blending dark humor with profoundly personal themes, the Coen brothers deliver what might be their most mature -- if not their best -- film to date.

89%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 216

68%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 62,968
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Movie Info

"A Serious Man" is the story of an ordinary man's search for clarity in a universe where Jefferson Airplane is on the radio and "F-Troop" is on TV. It is 1967, and Larry Gopnik, a physics professor at a quiet Midwestern university, has just been informed by his wife Judith that she is leaving him. She has fallen in love with one of his more pompous colleagues, Sy Ableman, who seems to her a more substantial person than the feckless Larry. Larry's unemployable brother Arthur is sleeping on the couch, his son Danny is a discipline problem and a shirker at Hebrew school, and his daughter Sarah is filching money from his wallet in order to save up for a nose job. While his wife and Sy Ableman blithely make new domestic arrangements, and his brother becomes more and more of a burden, an anonymous hostile letter-writer is trying to sabotage Larry's chances for tenure at the university. Also, a graduate student seems to be trying to bribe him for a passing grade while at the same time threatening to sue him for defamation. Plus, the beautiful woman next door torments him by sunbathing nude. Struggling for equilibrium, Larry seeks advice from three different rabbis. Can anyone help him cope with his afflictions and become a righteous person -- a mensch -- a serious man?

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Cast

Michael Stuhlbarg
as Larry Gopnik
Richard Kind
as Uncle Arthur
Fred Melamed
as Sy Ableman
Sari Lennick
as Judith Gopnik
Amy Landecker
as Mrs. Samsky
Alan Mandell
as Rabbi Marshak
Adam Arkin
as Divorce Lawyer
Allen Lewis Rickman
as Shtetl Husband
Yelena Shmulenson
as Shtetl Wife
Peter Breitmayer
as Mr. Brandt
Brent Braunschweig
as Mitch Brandt
Simon Helberg
as Rabbi Scott
David Kang
as Clive Park
Aaron Wolff
as Danny Gopnik
Jessica McManus
as Sarah Gopnik
Ari Hoptman
as Arlen Finkle
Michael Tezla
as Dr. Sussman
George Wyner
as Rabbi Nachtner
Michael Lerner
as Solomon Schultz
Benjamin Portnoe
as Danny's Reefer Buddy
Jon Kaminski Jr.
as Mike Fagle
Ronald Schultz
as Hebrew School Teacher
Raye Birk
as Dr. Shapiro
Charles Brin
as Hebrew School Teacher
Stephen Park
as Clive's Father
James Cada
as Cop #1
Jane Hammill
as Larry's Secretary
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Critic Reviews for A Serious Man

All Critics (216) | Top Critics (52)

  • The entire script is a mishmash: funny, droll, and anxiety producing, just like daily life in many Jewish families.

    Jan 16, 2018 | Full Review…

    Ed Koch

    The Atlantic
    Top Critic
  • The Coens may play around with that tradition, they may disparage it or mock it. But they are irrevocably a part of it, and that's all to the good.

    Jul 6, 2010 | Rating: B+ | Full Review…
  • If you're puzzled by the Coen Brothers' horrific comedies, this is the closest thing you'll get to an explanation.

    Jul 6, 2010 | Full Review…

    Rafer Guzman

    Newsday
    Top Critic
  • The film's potency is rooted in quiet precision and detailed realisation. Roger Deakins's typically polished photography gives an oppressively hard edge to Midwestern suburbia.

    Nov 20, 2009 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

    Ben Walters

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • A Serious Man represents the brothers at their sardonic best, wringing a sacrilegious amount of gallows humour from the trials of their latterday Job.

    Nov 20, 2009 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Wendy Ide

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • Euphoric, sad and thoughtful all at once... The Coens have finished the noughties as America's pre-eminent film-makers.

    Nov 20, 2009 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for A Serious Man

  • Sep 12, 2012
    A put-upon Jewish suburbanite suffers the trials and indignities of everyday life in the 1960s. I'm a big fan of the Coen brothers and I'm convinced that this, their latest straight comedy, is a quality film. The problem is that its audience is a very narrow one; namely Jewish Americans. Being as Goy as they come, the cultural references flew straight over my head and I found the constant religious references utterly baffling. Michael Stuhlbarg makes a very sympathetic central character and the gentle humour is always amusing. When I actually understood it. I'm sure the sly and witty observations on the modern Jewish condition are hilarious to the intended demographic but if like me you're not part of it, I suspect you'll find it equally bemusing.
    xGary X Super Reviewer
  • Mar 25, 2012
    Truly unique and full of deep questions about life, this is the Coen's most mature and reflective work. With hilarious dialogue and once again pitch perfect performances from the entire cast.
    Graham J Super Reviewer
  • Feb 24, 2012
    A really bad movie, easily the worst of the Coen brothers. There is NOTHING funny about it, and even if themes do exist here, they are buried upon layers of dullness. Everything that happens is totally senseless and pointless, there's not a single good thing about A Serious Man. Avoid at all costs.
    Kevin M Super Reviewer
  • Jan 14, 2012
    The Coens have always had a knack for mixing the bleak with the humorous. With A Serious Man, they apply that method to matters of faith. The man in question is Larry Gopnick, a physics professor at the local Minnesota university. He has a wonderful job, a family that he loves and a secure place in the community. Everything seems on the up and up for Larry. But things begin to change for the worse, and he is faced with a series of very unfortunate events. His wife wants a "get", a ritual divorce of some kind. His application for tenure at the university is suddenly in danger due to a series of anonymous letters. Both his son and daughter are sneaking money out of his wallet. One for marijuana, the other for a nose job. This forces Larry on his own spiritual quest, and he asks some important questions: Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Is he even there at all? Because of it's subject matter, A Serious Man is the Coen's most universal film. Though the film centers on a man of the Jewish persuasion, any pious or questioning adult may find some insight in this wonderfully and bitterly comic examination of the spiritual dilemma. The film as a whole (including the the opening Yiddish folk tale, I believe) is a proclamation of the uncertainty of God's existence. Either he is there throughout the film, or he is absent. Either the Yiddish couple of the opening story and Larry are cursed by God, or everything happens randomly with no rhyme or reason. He either exists or he doesn't and the film doesn't spell out an answer for us. The film is a very dark but bitterly funny examination of that question. Michael Stuhlbarg is very good as the hapless Larry Gopnick as he treated as a proverbial punching bag by everyone around him, and God if he's even present. Richard Kind is also very good as his brilliant but socially inept brother Arthur, who can't seem to catch any breaks of his own. Both performances skillfully mix that bitter humor and sadness that is emblematic of the piece as a whole. The Coen's script give keen insight into their observations and history with the faith of their childhood. As for where the Coens land on the question of God, own could probably take a good listen to the Jefferson Airplane song that plays throughout the film. When everything is lies, and all within you dies then what? Find someone to love.For in a world without a God, all we have is each other.
    Brandon S Super Reviewer

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