When this ladybrain first attempted, under duress, to catch A Serious Man at the local indie theater, she narrowly escaped seeing the wrong film, the similarly titled A Single Man. This mixup--which tragically ended with a viewing of the God-awful Flags of Our Fathers at the AFI--is telling, in that the new Cohen brothers film A Serious Man is yet another completely forgettable film about a white guy who hates his life in the suburbs.
The poor guy. He's up for tenure at his university. He's got a stay-at-home wife, of whose state of mind he is so oblivious he has no idea she's involved with another man and preparing to divorce him. His kids are assholes who walk all over him, because he lets them. His rabbis are alternately dismissive or moon-faced. His lawyers are expensive. His brother is a loaf. His name is Larry.
A Serious Man opens with a puzzling vignette that takes place in an Eastern European shtetl, telling a several-minute tale in Yiddish about a married couple who may or may not have come across a dybbuk, or a possessed corpse. This boring Cohen-brothers-fabricated folktale has admittedly nothing to do with the rest of the film, and yet it is the first thing the audience has to sit through.
Thus, after the atmosphere of ennui is sufficiently set, we enter a Midwest suburb to see just how suck-tackular life is for Larry in the suburbs, and how much worse it can progressively get. Larry endures and endures without managing to learn anything or prove himself along the way, and then receives some more bad news before a ridiculous and abrupt in medias res ending. For this ladybrain, the ending made the film even more infuriatingly bad. Thus, audiences spend the entire film in frustration.
And Larry's life is frustrating, it's hard not to pity the guy. But what is more frustrating than his family, friends, colleagues and congregation is the fact that Larry is a lilly-livered worm of a human. He takes it all lying down. He does nothing to help himself.
Some have said this story is supposed to be a modern-day parallel to Job. By that comparison Larry's plights are even more eye-roll inducing. Does anyone remember what happened to Job? His entire family was murdered. He had painful boils. He didn't have a neighbor who conveniently sunbathed naked.
If it wasn't clear already, women don't play a particularly positive role in Larry's life. In fact, they're right at the front of the pack making Larry miserable. His wife Judith is a cheater and a manipulator, who steam rolls and intimidates Larry with condescension and taunting. His daughter Sarah is a vapid ingrate and a thief, whose only joys in life are washing her hair and saving up for a nose job. The only women who don't lead to Larry's downfall either encourage him to seek advice from ultimately counter-productive rabbis or get him stoned and provide naked-fantasy-material.
But ultimately, his family and friends can't be held responsible for Larry's fate. If he'd grow a backbone, maybe we'd care more about his trials and tribulations. If only this film had a fraction of the insight or humor of other Cohen brothers films, which are some of this ladybrain's favorite films of all time.
Feminist grade: F
The few women who are in this film are by turns malicious, vapid, selfish or just fodder for sex dreams. Since this movie is all about Larry, it fails the Bechdel test.
Moviegoer grade: D-
That this film was among the 10 nominees for Best Picture is a complete joke.