In 1967 Minnesota, physics professor Larry Gopnik (Stuhlbarg) is struggling as squeezes in on him. His loser uncle (Kind) has taken up residence on the sofa, his wife (Lennick) has decided to run off with a local widower (Melamed), and his teen kids (Wolff and McManus) are constantly pestering him about trivialities. Meanwhile, he's waiting to hear if he'll be given tenure at work and facing some medical tests. To make sense of it all, he consults his lawyer (Arkin) and a series of rabbis (Helberg, Wyner and Mandell).
The Coens are examining their own childhood with the period and setting, as well as the ethnicity and religion. The central theme that life is essentially unknowable is echoed in an opening caption, "Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you" (Rashi), as well as a Jefferson Airplane track: "When the truth is found to be lies and all the joy within you dies, don't you want somebody to love?" The whole film mixes raw humour and wry hopefulness with a potent dose of bleak fatalism.
And it's impeccable filmmaking, with the Coens' expert writing, directing and editing enhanced by Roger Deakins' vibrant cinematography, Jess Gonchor's unfussy production design and Carter Burwell's perceptive score. It also features involving performances from the whole cast, anchored by Stuhlbarg's wonderfully matter-of-fact turn as a man who feels overwhelmed by what life is throwing at him and undercuts his growing frustration with good humour.
The constant insults hurled on him from every side are eerily recognisable, with pressures, temptations, injustices and irrational responsibilities all pushing the joy out of life. Even though Larry says and does nothing offensive, everyone treats him as if he's the cause of their woes. And since he doesn't feel guilty, he fails to stand up for himself. The Coens are such clever, observant filmmakers that they can bring out strong themes in fresh and often very funny ways that leave us entertained, shaken and provoked. Which is exactly what a good film should do.
Run time: 106 mins
In Theaters: Friday 20th November 2009
Box Office USA: $9.2M
Distributed by: Focus Features
Production compaines: Mike Zoss Productions, Focus Features, Studio Canal, Relativity Media, Working Title Films
Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 186 Rotten: 22
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik, Richard Kind as Uncle Arthur, Fred Melamed as Sy Ableman, Sari Lennick as Judith Gopnik, Aaron Wolff as Danny Gopnik, Jessica McManus as Sarah Gopnik, Adam Arkin as Don Milgram, George Wyner as Rabbi Nachter, Peter Breitmayer as Mr. Brandt, Brent Braunschweig as Mitch Brandt, David Kang as Clive Park, Benjamin Portnoe as Danny's Reefer Buddy, Jon Kaminski Jr. as Mike Fagle, Ari Hoptman as Arlen Finkle, Alan Mandell as Rabbi Marshak, Amy Landecker as Mrs. Samsky
Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie brings a dark and gritty tone to this larger-than-life franchise. Along with...
With a spectacular setting and two solid actors on-screen, this thriller builds enough solid suspense...
Those bright sparks at Pixar have done it again, taking a fiercely original approach to...
Slick direction and meaty performances may be enough for some viewers, but this boxing drama's...
Loose and impressionistic, this beautifully shot film traces the career of a DJ who pioneered...
Without a single moment of originality, this found-footage horror movie really deserves to be the...
An intriguing premise keeps the audience gripped for about 20 minutes before the movie runs...