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A Serious Man Directed by Joel Coen
- Ethan Coen
- Joel Coen
- Ethan Coen
- Joel Coen
Starring Music by Carter Burwell Cinematography Roger Deakins Editing by Roderick Jaynes Studio Distributed by Focus Features Release date(s) October 2, 2009 (2009-10-02) Running time 106 minutes Country United States Language
Budget $7 million Gross revenue $31,312,437
A Serious Man is a 2009 dark comedy written, produced, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The film stars Michael Stuhlbarg as a Minnesota Jewish man whose life crumbles both professionally and personally, leading to questions about his faith. The film has attracted a positive critical response, including a Golden Globe nomination for Stuhlbarg, a place on both the American Film Institute's and National Board of Review's Top 10 Film Lists of 2009, and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
In a Polish shtetl in the early 20th century, a Jewish man, Velvel (Allen Lewis Rickman), tells his wife Dora (Yelena Shmuelenson) that he had been helped on his way home by Traitle Groshkover, whom he has invited in for soup. Dora objects, saying Groshkover is dead, and that this visitor must be a dybbuk. When he arrives, Groshkover (Fyvush Finkel) laughs off the accusation, but Dora plunges an icepick into his chest. Bleeding, he exits into the snowy night.
In Minnesota in 1967, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor of physics whose wife, Judith (Sari Lennick), abruptly informs him that she needs a get (a Jewish divorce document) so she can marry widower Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed).
Three other people reside at Larry and Judith's house. Their son Danny (Aaron Wolff) owes twenty dollars for marijuana to an intimidating Hebrew school classmate, but the bill is hidden in a transistor radio since confiscated by his teacher. Daughter Sarah is always doing her hair. Larry's brother, Arthur (Richard Kind), sleeps on the couch and spends his free time filling a notebook with an extravagant theory that will, he claims, tie together all natural laws.
Larry faces an impending vote on his application for tenure, and his department head lets slip that anonymous letters have urged the committee to deny him. A Korean student, Clive Park, about to flunk Larry's class and lose his scholarship, plants in Larry's office an envelope stuffed with cash. After Larry attempts to return it, Clive's father comes to his house to threaten to sue either for defamation if Larry accuses Clive of bribery, or for keeping the money if he does not give him a passing grade.
At the insistence of Judith and Sy, Larry and Arthur move into a nearby motel. Judith has emptied the couple's bank accounts, leaving Larry penniless, so he enlists the services of a sympathetic divorce attorney (Adam Arkin). Larry learns Arthur faces charges of solicitation and sodomy, despite his previous attendance at "mixers."
To cope with his streak of unfortunate circumstances, Larry turns to his Jewish faith. The two rabbis he consults are either obtuse, oblivious, or obscure. His synagogue's senior rabbi is never available. Larry's mental state reaches a breaking point when he and Sy are involved in seemingly simultaneous, but separate, car crashes. Larry is unharmed, but Sy is killed. At Judith's insistence, Larry pays for Sy's funeral.
Larry is proud and moved by Danny's bar mitzvah, unaware of his son's distractions from nerves and marijuana. During the service, Judith apologizes to Larry for all the recent trouble and informs him that Sy liked him so much that he even wrote letters to the tenure committee. Danny meets with the senior rabbi in his office, where the old man — who has had Danny's transistor radio in his desk — quotes verbatim from the psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane's song "Somebody To Love". When he returns the radio, he counsels Danny to "be a good boy."
Larry's department head compliments him on Danny's bar mitzvah and hints that he will win tenure. Upon receiving the bill for Arthur's criminal lawyer, Larry decides to pass Clive. Larry's doctor calls, asking to see him immediately to talk about the results of a chest X-ray. At the same moment, Danny's teacher struggles to open the school's shelter door as a massive tornado bears down on them.
 Cast and characters
- Michael Stuhlbarg as Lawrence "Larry" Gopnik; an actor relatively unknown to film audiences, Stuhlbarg was cast on the strength of his theatrical work in New York. He initially auditioned for the prologue but was called back to read for the parts of Arthur and Larry, eventually being cast in the lead role.
- Richard Kind as Arthur Gopnik
- Sari Lennick as Judith Gopnik; Lennick was inspired by the confidence the Coens had in her; they consulted her on the character details and allowed her to make the character her own.
- Fred Melamed as Sy Ableman
- Aaron Wolff as Danny Gopnik
- Jessica McManus as Sarah Gopnik
- Alan Mandell as Rabbi Marshak
- Adam Arkin as Don Milgram
- George Wyner as Rabbi Nachtner
- Amy Landecker as Mrs. Vivienne Samsky; in an interview with actress Landecker, she said that the first name of Mrs. Samsky is in fact Vivienne and was based on a real neighbor of the Coen brothers
- Katherine Borowitz as Mimi Nudell
- Allen Lewis Rickman as Velvel
- Yelena Shmuelenson as Dora
- Fyvush Finkel as Traitle Groshkover
- Simon Helberg as Rabbi Scott Ginzler
- Andrew S. Lentz as Mark Sallerson
- Jack Swiler as Howard Altar
- Tim Harlan-Marks as Hebrew school bus driver
- Benjy Portnoe as Ronnie Nudell
- Brent Braunschweig as Mitch Brandt
- Ari Hoptman as Arlen Finkle
- Michael Lerner as Solomon Schlutz
- David Kang as Clive
- Steve Park as Clive's father
Open auditions for the roles of Danny and Sarah were held on May 4, 2008, at the Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, one of the scheduled shooting locations for the film. Open auditions for the role of Sarah were also held in June 2008 in Chicago, Illinois.
Considerable attention was paid to the setting; it was important to the Coens to find a neighborhood of original-looking suburban rambler homes as they would have appeared in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, in the late 1960s. Locations were scouted in nearby communities Edina, Richfield, Brooklyn Center, and Hopkins before a suitable location was found in Bloomington. The look of the film is partly based on the Brad Zellar book Suburban World: The Norling Photographs, a collection of photographs of Bloomington in the 1950s and 60s.
Longtime collaborator Roger Deakins rejoined the Coen brothers as cinematographer, following his absence from Burn After Reading. This is the tenth film he has worked on with the Coen brothers. Costume designer Mary Zophres returns for her ninth collaboration with the directors.
The Yiddish story that introduces the film was created by the Coen brothers, as they did not find any folk tales they thought were suitable. They claim the story has no developmental relationship to what follows other than to set the tone. Roger Ebert interpreted the faux folk tale at the beginning of the movie as the couple seen in the folk tale are Larry's ancestors and may through their action toward the Visitor have introduced a curse or a strain of sin into the family tree, as Yiddish folk belief would have construed the story. A portrait of Reb Groshkover is glimpsed on the wall outside the Rabbi Marshak's office later in the film.
Location filming began on September 8, 2008, in Minnesota. An office scene was shot at Normandale Community College in Bloomington. The film also used a set built in the school's library, as well as small sections of the second floor science building hallway. The synagogue is the B'nai Emet Synagogue in St. Louis Park. The Coen brothers also shot some scenes in St. Olaf College's old science building because of its similar period architecture. Scenes were also shot at the Minneapolis legal offices of Meshbesher & Spence, with founder and president Ronald I. Meshbesher being mentioned as the criminal lawyer hired by Larry in the film. Filming wrapped on November 6, 2008, after 44 days, ahead of schedule and within budget.
The film's original music was composed by Carter Burwell (who has composed the music for all the Coens' movies). The soundtrack included several songs from from the Jefferson Airplane album Surrealistic Pillow, including "Somebody to Love," "Today," "Comin' Back to Me," and "3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds." The soundtrack also featured "Machine Gun" from Jimi Hendrix's live album Band of Gypsys, and some pieces of Yiddish music including Mark Warshawsky's "Dem Milner's Treren" performed by Sidor Belarsky.
As of February 10, 2010, it has had worldwide gross earnings of $31,312,437 It has received mostly positive reviews from critics, with an aggregate score of 88% from Rotten Tomatoes, based on 173 reviews. Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, rated the film four out of four stars, feeling the movie "bears every mark of a labor of love,". Variety's Todd McCarthy commented that "the Coens' filmmaking skills are sharply attentive," and that A Serious Man is "the kind of picture you get to make after you've won an Oscar". Claudia Puig of USA Today writes, "A Serious Man is a wonderfully odd, bleakly comic and thoroughly engrossing film. Underlying the grim humor are serious questions about faith, family, mortality and misfortune." Time critic Richard Corliss describes it as "disquieting" and "haunting." Christy Lemire called it "the Coens' most thoughtful and personal film" and gave it three-and-a-half stars out of four.
The St. Petersburg Times's Steve Persall wrote that the main character would remind Bible readers of the Book of Job despite some important differences. The Coens themselves have allowed that, while there may be allusions to Job, the "germ" of the story was a rabbi from their adolescence, a "mysterious figure" who had a private conversation with each student at the conclusion of their religious education. The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern disliked what he saw as misanthropy in the film, saying that "...their caricatures range from dislikable through despicable, with not a smidgeon of humanity to redeem them." David Denby from The New Yorker enjoyed the look and feel of the film, but found fault with the script and characterization: "A Serious Man, like Burn After Reading, is in their bleak, black, belittling mode, and it's hell to sit through... As a piece of movie-making craft, A Serious Man is fascinating; in every other way, it's intolerable."
Stuhlbarg was awarded the Chaplin Virtuoso Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and nominated for Best Actor in the 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards. Stuhlbarg, Kind, Melamed and Lennick were nominated for a Gotham Award for Best Performance by an Ensemble Cast. Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, casting directors Ellen Chenoweth and Rachel Tenner, along with actors Kind, Lennick, Melamed, Stuhlbarg, Wolff and McManus were awarded the Robert Altman Spirit Award by Film Independent for Excellence in Collaborative Cinematic Achievement by Directors, Casting Directors and an Ensemble Cast. Deakins received the Best Cinematography awards at both the 2009 Hollywood Awards and the 2009 San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards, as well as the Nikola Tesla Award at the Satellite Awards and the Best Cinematography award at the Independent Spirit Awards. A Serious Man was nominated for an MPSE Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing: Dialogue and ADR in a Feature Film.
The Coen brothers were awarded Best Original Screenplay at the 2009 National Board of Review Awards and Best Original Screenplay from the National Society of Film Critics Awards 2009, and have been nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay and the BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay. A Serious Man was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay in the Broadcast Film Critics Association's 15th Annual Critics' Choice Awards, and by the Boston Society of Film Critics, Best Picture by the Chicago Film Critics Association. The film was listed as one of the ten best films of 2009 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, the American Film Institute, the Satellite Awards and the Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards.
A Serious Man was nominated for Best Original Screenplay (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen) and Best Picture at the 82nd Academy Awards. BBC News called it "one of the less talked about nominees" for Best Picture; they also noted that lead actor Stuhlbarg received his invitation to the ceremony at the last minute.
- ^ a b "A Serious Man". Box Office Mojo. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=seriousman.htm. Retrieved February 10, 2010.
- ^ a b c d e yanayak (August 15, 2009). "A Serious Man Production Notes". Film in Focus (Focus Features): p. 9. http://www.oscars.org/press/presskits/nominations/pdf/serious_man.pdf. Retrieved December 1, 2009. "We thought a little self-contained story would be an appropriate introduction for this movie. Since we didn’t know any suitable Yiddish folk tales, we made one up."
- ^ "Interview: Joel and Ethan Coen On A Serious Man". cinemablend.com. http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Interview-Joel-And-Ethan-Coen-On-A-Serious-Man-15022.html. Retrieved 2010-01-28.
- ^ "Coens cast about to fill three roles in 'A Serious Man'". Minneapolis Star Tribune. April 25, 2008. http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/movies/18180979.html. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
- ^ Campbell, Tim (September 28, 2007). "Coen brothers to get 'Serious' in Minnesota". Star Tribune. http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/movies/11525326.html. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
- ^ Covert, Colin (September 6, 2008). "In Twin Cities, Coen brothers shoot from heart". Star Tribune. http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/movies/27957494.html. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
- ^ "Serious' film was nostalgic pleasure for Coen brothers". Twincities.com. http://google.com/search?q=cache:JnFyMieYSe0J:www.twincities.com/ci_13430357%3Fsource%3Drss_viewed+brad+zellar+suburban+world+coen&cd=5&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-a. Retrieved November 4, 2009.
- ^ a b "Production Begins on the Coen's A Serious Man". Comingsoon.net. http://www.comingsoon.net/news/movienews.php?id=48634. Retrieved September 9, 2008.
- ^ a b Ebert, Roger (October 7, 2009). "A Serious Man". Chicago Sun-Times. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091007/REVIEWS/910079998. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
- ^ Henke, David (August 19, 2008). "Coen brothers will use St. Olaf for movie". Northfield News. http://northfieldnews.com/news.php?viewStory=45735. Retrieved December 1, 2009.
- ^ Gonnerman, David (October 9, 2008). "St. Olaf gets 'Serious'". St. Olaf College News. http://fusion.stolaf.edu/news/index.cfm?fuseaction=NewsDetails&id=4469. Retrieved December 1, 2009.
- ^ C.J. (October 2, 2009). "Meshbesher's star turn". Minneapolis Star Tribune (StarTribune.com). http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/62990072.html?page=2&c=y. Retrieved 2009-10-01.
- ^ "It's a wrap! Coen brothers' latest film is in the can". StarTribune.com. http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/movies/33945219.html. Retrieved November 11, 2008.
- ^ Evans, Ian (2009). "A Serious Man premiere at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival". DigitalHit.com. http://www.digitalhit.com/galleries/34/507. Retrieved December 12, 2009.
- ^ "Oscar-winning Coens head home with "A Serious Man"". Reuters. September 13, 2009. http://www.reuters.com/article/entertainmentNews/idUSTRE58C1LM20090913. Retrieved September 14, 2009.
- ^ "A Serious Man (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/a_serious_man/. Retrieved December 29, 2009.
- ^ McCarthy, Todd (September 11, 2009). "A Serious Man". Variety. http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117941026.html?categoryid=2863&cs=1. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
- ^ Puig, Claudia. "'A Serious Man' is a seriously good departure for Coens". USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/reviews/2009-10-01-serious-man_N.htm. Retrieved October 2, 2009.
- ^ Corliss, Richard (September 12, 2009). "A Serious Man: The Coen Brothers' Jewish Question". TIME. http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1922024,00.html. Retrieved October 2, 2009.
- ^ "Seriously funny troubles abound in `Serious Man'". Associated Press. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gg4RAYV9Lo4IE5yVX6GW-WGvp_lgD9B19UB80. Retrieved October 2, 2009. [dead link]
- ^ Persall, Steve (November 1, 2009). "Coen brothers' 'A Serious Man' has troubles of Job without uplift". St. Petersburg Times. http://www.tampabay.com/features/movies/coen-brothers-a-serious-man-has-troubles-of-job-without-uplift/1048550. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
- ^ "Coen Bros. On Wet Horses, Kid Stars: It's A Wild West". NPR. January 12, 2011. http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=132744499. Retrieved January 29, 2011.
- ^ Morgenstern, Joe (October 2, 2009). "'A Serious Man'". Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704471504574446962410393646.html. Retrieved October 2, 2009.
- ^ Denby, David. "Gods and Victims: “A Serious Man” and “Capitalism: A Love Story.”". The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2009/10/05/091005crci_cinema_denby. Retrieved October 2, 2009.
- ^ Tim Masters (March 7 , 2010). "Cast of Coen Brothers comedy mull Oscar chances". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8554095.stm. Retrieved 2010-03-07.
 External links
- Official website
- A Serious Man at the Internet Movie Database
- A Serious Man at Allmovie
- A Serious Man at Box Office Mojo
- A Serious Man at Rotten Tomatoes
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