06 November 2009

I feel I must respond to a review of the film "A Serious Man" found in this week's New Yorker (apparently by David Denby).

I saw this movie a week ago and loved it, as I have loved all the Coen brothers' movies since The Big Lebowski. You have to give props to someone who puts a 20-minute Yiddish-language folktale at the beginning of their movie and try to market it in America. Denby claims the movie is "black, bleak, and belittling....a deadpan farce about middle-class bad taste." Yet the main character's plight (trying to be a mensch, a serious man, against an alternately hostile and indifferent world) is surely universal. Was Hamlet only for the middle class?

Perhaps Denby was traumatized by the wallpaper in the Gopnik household (but it is 1967, what did you expect?), and totally missed the intricate drama unspooling. What other movie in the last decade, the last century, has featured a Jewish family in Minnesota composed of a physics professor, a gay man with an incurable tumor, a wife who initiates divorce, a bitchy daughter, and a nerdy son? Not to mention the three rabbis, each sui generis and Mrs. Simsky the next-door nudist. Maybe you have to live in the Midwest to fully appreciate the story--this is not the Royal Tannenbaums on the prairie.

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