The trials of Job in 1950s Midwestern Jewish suburbia. That might be the best way to describe the dark comedy A Serious Man, which many are saying is the Coen brothers most personal film to date.
What, then, to make of the film’s protagonist, Larry Gopnik, played by New York theater vet Michael Stuhlbarg, and clearly a stand-in for Joel and Ethan’s dad? Yes, Larry is a decent man—his quest to be a serious one is open to debate. But he’s also a total doormat.
Early in the film, Larry’s wife (Sari Lennick) tells him she’s leaving him for family friend Sy Abelman (Fred Melamed). Somehow she manages to turn this announcement into a harangue—she’s annoyed at Larry because he forced her to cheat on him (or something like that). Sy, on the other hand, wants to prove what a mensch he is by comforting Larry. “It’s going to be okay,” he repeats unctuously, enveloping Larry in an unwanted embrace.
At the university where Larry teaches physics, a Korean student (drolly funny Danny Kang) tries to blackmail Larry into giving him a passing grade. Larry is outraged,...