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October 01, 2009 - Image 65

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2009-10-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Senior Cita • -

inner S

Bread
Deli
and Restaurant

"Where you grow up is part of
The unsettling sequence sets the
your identity," Ethan Coen said. "That
tone for the rest of the film, which
doesn't go away, even if you've been
revolves around Larry Gopnik
away for a long time." The credits at
(Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics profes-
the end of the film joke,"No Jews were
sor whose uneventful suburban life
harmed in the making of this movie."
is shattered by an existential crisis.
As they did with Fargo, the Coens
Two weeks before his son, Danny, a
cast Minnesotan actors — this time,
Talmud Torah student, is to become
Jewish ones — to portray minor
a bar mitzvah, Larry's wife, Judith
characters and extras. For the leads,
(Sari Lennick), announces she wants
they conducted an extensive audition
a divorce in order to marry a family
process, focusing on lesser-known
friend, whom she regards as a more
Jewish actors rather than the celebri-
"serious" man than her husband — a
ties (think George Clooney and Brad
person of substance, a pillar of the
Pitt) who have starred in Coen movies
community.
like Burn After Reading.
The stunned professor is soon ban-
Stuhlbarg was called in numerous
ished to a seedy motel with his brother
Arthur (Richard Kind), a volatile child- times to read various roles before
man who feverishly scribbles into a spi- the Coens cast him as Larry. The 37-
year-old Juilliard graduate — who
ral notebook he calls his Mentaculus,
became smitten with the theater while
a probability theory about how events
performing at a Long Beach, Calif.
unfold in the universe. Arthur also has
Jewish community center at 11— is
a penchant for racking up expensive
an esteemed veteran of the New York
legal fees for Larry to pay.
Meanwhile, an unscrupu-
lous student threatens Larry's
tenure. Danny, who hates his
archaic Talmud Torah day
school, prefers to get stoned,
watch F Troop and listen to
Jefferson Airplane. Larry's
daughter is preoccupied with
her social life and saving cash
to pay for a nose job.
Larry seeks counsel from
three rabbis — a Hebraic
version of Dickens' Christmas
ghosts — but they offer
neither wisdom nor comfort.
Even when it appears Larry's
Writer/directors Joel & Ethan Coen on the set of
luck has finally turned, the
their new film A Serious Man
elements seem to conspire
to crush him — literally
stage, having earned a 2005 Tony
and metaphorically — as a tornado
Award nomination for his turn as Billy
approaches.
Crudup's creepy brother in the black
Just as Minnesotans were initially
comedy The Pillowman.
offended by what they perceived as
Stuhlbarg had also portrayed the
Fargo's portrayal of locals as simple-
tormented lover in Tony Kushner's A
tons with exaggerated accents, some
Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds;
Jewish viewers may be taken aback
an Auschwitz sonderkommando (a
by aspects of A Serious Man, which
Jewish prisoner who manned the
depicts a spiritually vapid Jewish
crematoria) in the stage and film ver-
community, inept rabbis, demanding
sions of Tim Blake Nelson's The Grey
wives, stoned bar mitzvah boys and
Zone, and, along the way, has done
Jews who condescendingly refer to
readings with Joel Coen's wife, Frances
non-Jews as "goys."
McDormand, who took her husband
The filmmakers preemptively
to see Stuhlbarg perform in David
address the issue in the movie's pro-
Mamet's adaptation of the morality
duction notes: "People can get a little
play The Voysey Inheritance.
uptight when you're being specific
Some time later, a script of A
with a subject matter:' Joel Coen said.
Serious Man landed on Stuhlbarg's
"From our point of view, A Serious
desk, which thrilled the actor. "I had
Man is a very affectionate look at the
seen every single one of the Coens'
community and is a movie that will
movies," he said. "I love their sense of
show aspects of Judaism, which are
not usually seen."
Get 'Serious' on page 46

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October 1 • 2009

45

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