I think the perfect word to describe this movie is “esoteric,” despite my slight disdain for the term. But it’s true. A Serious Man starred a bunch of actors doing a bunch of things I didn’t understand and, as it turns out, the whole thing was supposed to be funny.
I’m not blaming myself, though. It was a Coen brothers movie, which means it’s out there to begin with. It’s just that I have a fair number of these under my belt, like O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Big Lebowski and Fargo, all of which I thought were hilarious, so I thought that by this time I’d be in on the joke. Oh, well. I think you have to be Jewish to really get A Serious Man.
Seriously. This movie was incredibly Jewish. It was about a Jewish man at a Jewish school whose wife wants a Jewish divorce, but her lover dies and so he gets a Jewish funeral, and there are rabbis and glottal stops happening all over the place. I think we can all appreciate the humor in a good stereotype, but all of these references went over my head really quickly, to the point where the movie was clearly made for a specific audience. And that’s fine! It just wasn’t me.
I could definitely tell it was well-made and well-acted, not that I’d expect anything less from the Co Bros. Michael Stuhlbarg reminded me of a Jewish Bill Henrickson, in that he was so forgettably average, yet just nice enough to root for. And Richard Kind made occasional comedic appearances as the kooky uncle with a weird cyst on his neck. I don’t know. The other details are pretty fuzzy. If you’re into Jewish and/or dark comedy, I’d say go for it. Otherwise, stick with the Co Bros’ better works.