Bloomington, Minnesota, 1967: Jewish physics lecturer Larry Gopnik is a serious and a very put-upon man. His daughter is stealing from him to save up for a nose job, his pot-head son, who gets stoned at his own bar-mitzvah, only wants him round to fix the TV aerial and his useless brother Arthur is an unwelcome house guest. But both Arthur and Larry get turfed out into a motel when Larry's wife Judy, who wants a divorce, moves her lover, Sy, into the house and even after Sy's death in a car crash they are still there. With lawyers' bills mounting for his divorce, Arthur's criminal court appearances and a land feud with a neighbour Larry is tempted to take the bribe offered by a student to give him an illegal exam pass mark. And the rabbis he visits for advice only dole out platitudes. Still God moves in mysterious - and not always pleasant - ways, as Larry and his family will find out. Written by
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Most Jewish congregations of the day required Bar Mitzvah boys to chant only the haftarah, an excerpt from the Prophets thematically related to that week's Torah portion and read directly afterwards. Only more "serious" congregations required that they also precede the haftarah recital by chanting the final Torah portion (maftir), as is seen with Danny. This is considerably more than twice as much work, as Torah and haftarah cantillation use different sets of musical motifs notated by the same set of "accents" (extra diacritical marks in the learning text). Learning both systems is thus like learning a new alphabet - and then learning two entirely different ways of pronouncing each letter. See more »
Danny is called up as Maftir, the last reader for that weekly Torah portion. However, what he actually reads is the beginning of Parashat Behar, which is read by the first reader, not the last. The first reader would typically be a "cohen", a descendant of Aaron, the High Priest and brother of Moses. In light of their family name, it is reasonable to assume that the Coen brothers are themselves "cohanim". See more »
Misfortunes befall a Jewish physics professor in 1967 Minnesota: his wife is dating a family friend and wants a divorce, his two teenage children are self-centered and unsympathetic, his brother (living with the family) is a nuisance and an embarrassment, one of his students has attempted to bribe him for a better grade...even his neighbors--animal-killing Goyum!--are giving him a rough time. Richly-textured dark comedy by the sometimes-inscrutable Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, who teamed on the writing, producing and directing, begins with a strange, amusing Yiddish prologue in pre-WWII Eastern Europe that sets the tone for the quizzical, deadpan-eccentric situations that follow. In the lead, Michael Stuhlbarg initially projects a wonderful, grounded screen presence, a combination of a logical perspective and a dryly incredulous resolve; however, the Coens come to rely too much on Stuhlbarg's nebbish qualities, such as his unwavering patience in the midst of outlandish circumstances. Stuhlbarg's crinkled, happy/sad eyes and his nervous, tightly-stretched little smiles also remind one too much of a younger Robin Williams, and the performance begins to look like an impersonation. The art direction and set design is a dream, showcasing the Coens penchant for brilliant scene-composition and execution, but their tale--an ironic tragicomedy about morals and fate and the "expressions of life"--won't be to everyone's taste. Ultimately, the film offers a handful of audacious moments in search of a masterwork. **1/2 from ****
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