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Serious Man, A (DVD Review)

8 Feb, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Serious Man

Street 2/9/10
Box Office $9.2 million
$29.98 DVD, $36.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for language, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence.
Stars Michael Stuhlbarg, Sari Lennick, Richard Kind, Aaron Wolff.

You know those days when you wish you could go back to bed and start over? Substitute “life” for days and you get the closest thing to a flawless movie the Coen Brothers have made since 1996’s Fargo — if not ever.

After a Yiddish prologue set in a previous century that seems to put a curse on all that follows, Joel and Ethan Coen return to the 1967 suburban Minnesota of their youth to tell the story of a Jewish physics professor (Tony nominee Michael Stuhlbarg) who can make every formula add up on his classroom blackboard but can’t come up with the formula that will allow life to cut him a single break.

You name it: marital problems, progeny problems, brother problems, a student problem, a neighbor problem, a problem with “F-Troop” TV reception (Forrest Tucker’s visage looks snowy) and even a horny problem involving a different kind of neighbor — the married one who smokes dope, likes to sunbathe full-frontal outdoors and asks our protagonist (in a breathy, sexy voice) if he’s been able to enjoy “the new freedoms.”

You can view the picture as a poker-faced side-splitter or a drama with comedic elements — and I have friends who’ve read it both ways. But whatever your take, the comedy is perfectly measured (as is everything else) — and remarkably grown-up in a manner Hollywood long ago abandoned once the teen-taste demographic took over. There aren’t many faces here even frequent filmgoers will recognize; like TV’s “Mad Men” before we became familiar with the cast, this is a movie that clarifies just how many exceptional actors there are out there who are borderline obscure.

The result comes so close to perfection in its own mordant way it’s doubly regrettable that an admittedly great continuing gag involves two rock albums that were released in 1970 yet show up in a story set in 1967. Why is it that Martin Scorsese the only director who always gets historical time and placement of music consistently right?

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