Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind
Director: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
I really have enjoyed most of the Coen brothers' movies. I think they're great storytellers and I was looking forward to this movie, especially after it received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Although I don't consider it their greatest movie, it's still a funny dark comedy that probably isn't for everyone.
Maggie and her parents actually got the chance to watch this before I did and Maggie absolutely hated it. First of all, the beginning part has no bearing on the rest of the movie and that was extremely bothersome to her. I didn't mind it - it was supposed to represent the tone of the film and introduce thematic elements, but I can understand why someone would be upset about it. And the ending is very abrupt and doesn't resolve a lot of issues in the movie. I don't think the Coen brothers make these kinds of movies often (I can only think of one, No Country For Old Men, and that really isn't as ambiguous as some make it out to be) that leave you scratching your head at the end. I guess the reason I liked it was because those elements stuck in my head long after the movie had ended. I found myself thinking about it at work and the different metaphors (particularly Schrödinger's cat) that come up in the movie.
The story centers on Larry Gopnik, a physics professor in a small Minnesota town during the 60s who's life is spiraling downwards - his wife wants a divorce, his impending tenure has come into question and his brother doesn't seem to want to leave his house. Larry tries to seek help by reaching out to the leaders of his faith. It's a darkly comic tale that doesn't have a happy, nor a coherent ending. But I think there's a lot of interesting themes and ideas floating around in this movie for a worthy discussion - just check out the imdb.com message boards to find out what people are thinking, it's actually quite revelatory if you're struggling to make sense of the plot. Basically - the story's inspiration stems from the Old Testament tale of Job - the man who loses everything but never questions his faith. But Larry does question his faith and wants answers.
The cast is made up of mostly unknowns and I liked it that way. Sometimes I feel like movie stars get in the way of the characters so much that I'm not watching a movie, but rather Tom Cruise playing so and so or Julia Roberts playing so and so. So I always enjoy movies that have actors that are unfamiliar to me. And the performances are great - Michael Stuhlbarg is perfect as Larry - he walks a thin line between a complete patsy and someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It's great to see Larry deal with the problems the way he does. I was just waiting for some moment for him to explode, but it doesn't happen. And I liked that, the movie went in an unexpectedly different direction.
While I don't consider this one of my favorite movies from 2009, I think it's worth a rental. It's right up your alley if you like the absurd and dark comedies, but also any Coen brothers fan should eat it up.