Everyone’s a Critic: Two Twin-Cities natives review ‘A Serious Man’

Happy Monday, everybody! In this special edition of Everyone’s a Critic, I thought it’d be fun to have a couple of my Minnesota friends to offer their (slightly different) views on a movie that happens to be filmed in our neck of the woods. This is the first movie set in Minnesota from the Coen brothers since Fargo over a decade ago. I haven’t seen it but I’m definitely intrigued to check it out just to see the familiar places I’ve been to in Minnesota, i.e. the Embers restaurant shown in the movie was a regular hangout place for my friends and I in my college years.

Special thanks to Becky and Leslie for their contribution!

Leslie Thomson

So for the last few years I’ve made it my mission to see the best picture nominees before the Academy Award’s big night. And mission it was this year with the Academy changing the number of nominees from 5 to 10 movies. Not having seen any of the movies before the announcements, it was a scramble. Unfortunately I only made 8 of the 10, missing out on Up (should be an easy one to watch) and Precious (expecting a very hard one to watch and I admit I’ve been reticent to see it, but eventually I will).

Having seen 8 of the movies, I was asked my opinion of A Serious Man. With a large part of the production being filmed here in my home state I was obviously interested in seeing it. Friends were approached by one of the film scouts to look at the interior of their house for that perfect 60’s décor but they lost out to neighbors up the street. But we were given day by day descriptions of the numerous trucks, powerful arc lights illuminating their neighborhood at the crack of dawn and the constant parade of cars cruising by to see what all the activity was about.

 

Joel & Ethan Cohen

 

I’ve liked many of the Coen Brothers’ movies, Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski (my mother’s favorite), O Brother Where Art Thou (my favorite) and No Country for Old Men. So of course as with their other movies, I expected a slightly twisted, quirky movie populated with slightly twisted, quirky characters. Well A Serious Man is all that. But I was bemused – missing – something. I watched the numerous scenes of a middle class, Midwestern Jewish family  moving through their life of Hebrew school, bar mitzvah, running from the school brute (whom I kept thinking of as a golem), a failing marriage, a nude neighbor, a rude neighbor, car accidents, rambling rabbis young and old, bickering siblings, etc, etc, etc. Was there more to this movie that I, as a goy, was missing? I don’t know. All I know was that my facial expression throughout the movie mimicked that of Larry Gopnick – slight head tilt, furrowed brow and an uncomprehending stare all until the final scene which snapped to black. Huh?

 

Michael Stuhlbarg
Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik

 


Becky Kurk
(Prairiegirl)
I liked this movie simply because it was so nostalgic for me. It’s also amusing, in the Coen Bros kind of way, with enough laugh-out-loud moments to satisfy the comedy junkie in me. It is set in 1967 and was filmed entirely in and around the Twin Cities, mostly in Bloomington, a second-tier southern suburb. I grew up in Roseville, a second tier northern suburb. (The Coen Bros grew up during the 60s too, in St. Louis Park, a western suburb of Minneapolis.) The 60s sets – interior and ex, the clothes and the music were so faithfully recreated I thought I had gone back in time, and it brought back a lot of memories. One of the most surprisingly delightful scenes (for me) was an exterior shot of a Red Owl grocery store (the precursor to Super Valu), with it’s distinct logo. I remember going to shop there with my mom a hundred times when I was a girl.

After a Jewish college professor’s (Larry Gopnik, played wonderfully by Michael Stuhlbarg, a 2009 Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor) wife asks him for a divorce, his life starts to come apart, and his search for “meaning” leads him on many paths. One of many laugh-out-loud scenes include a loose neighbor woman who indulges with him in the same recreational drug his young son smokes right before his bar mitzvah. Combined with his brother’s bizarre troubles, their Jewish traditions (of which I am not familiar with at all, but most of the time, you don’t need to be Jewish to see the humor involved), his kids (Larry has two teenage children, a 16-year-old girl, thoroughly embarrassed by her parents and obsessed with her hair, and a 13-year-old son who is beholden to a bully for $20 he owes him for the pot he and friends smoke in the high school bathroom), there is so much subtlety woven into the plot I can see how viewers can easily get bored. But I thoroughly adored the charm, loyalty and realness of this outwardly normal-seeming, inwardly dysfunctional, ultimately (probably) typical Jewish family living in the suburban Midwest in the late 1960s. With this film, I think you need to go with your instinct whether you should see it or not – either you will love it or hate it. I doubt there’s much room for anything in between.

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