After the timid reception met by the star-studded Burn After Reading (fun but empty, worth a go if you’re after something light with a dark side), I feel the Coen brothers attempted to recreate some past glories by having a pop at making another Lebowski, but instead succeeded in making the most Jewish film in the world. As a non-Jew (I’m a non-everything, in case you’re wondering. All I can do is offend others) I am among those that, after watching this film, looked around and said “what were they saying?” as quite a lot happens that I’m sure will be familiar to those more acquainted with the Jewish faith and the Yiddish language. The rest is decipherable, but I can’t help feeling that I’m missing something.
Michael Stuhlbarg is Larry Gopnik, a physics professor who, through no fault of his own, is living a life that won’t stop collapsing. His son is having problems at school as he leads up to his Bar Mitzvah. His wife is leaving him for an older, fatter, balder man, who keeps calling Larry so they can hug it out. Larry’s brother Arthur (A Bug’s Life and Spin City’s Richard Kind, the closest the film has to a known star as well as the Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg) is possibly autistic, definitely annoying, and sleeping on the sofa. A failing South Korean student is attempting to bribe his way into passing, the school board is receiving calls encouraging them not to give Larry tenure and his neighbours are stealing his lawn. Every step Larry takes is another one towards the total destruction of his existence, and watching swings between hilarious and painful.
I’m sure I’d have preferred the film had a glossary been issued in the DVD case, and if I hadn’t been concerned with the relation the opening scene, in which a husband and wife are visited by a man who may or may not be the possessed corpse of a deceased friend, and to be fair I’m still wondering. The script has its moments (“it’s just mathematics, you can’t arrest someone for mathematics”) but alas this is among the Coen’s more obscure efforts.
Choose life 7/10