I watched this for Michael Stuhlbarg and let me tell you: he’s magnificent in it. HE’S MAGNIFICENT. He’s got these surprisingly large brown eyes and a voice with every edge rounded off to a smooth burnished bell — these are the consistencies, he’s always coming with those. The entire historical living human being he then sets behind those eyes and in that voice, that’s all on him and his preposterous morphability. In the last two months I have seen Michael Stuhlbarg in three movies. Before this, I had seen him in, [checks], good god, another five movies, including Arrival just last year. The fact that I have only now recognized him is, I swear, a testament to his great skill.
I will actually talk about A Serious Man at some point I promise, but now I’m on his Wikipedia page and Michael Stuhlbarg once studied mime with Marcel Marceau. What can’t he do!!
Anyway, in A Serious Man Michael Stuhlbarg plays a 1960s Jewish physics professor whose entire life just falls apart around him, and the reason why it succeeds as the dark comedy the Coen Brothers aimed for it to be, is that his performance is so engaging that you’ll willingly go with this poor man through one horror after another. He’s so accessible, such a dear combination of sincere and un-self-serious, so hopeful and despairing and funny, so #mood, that I mourn the fact that this movie came out eight years ago because I could really use approximately 25 reaction gifs from it.
So, come for the Stuhlbarg, stay for how it was shot by Roger Deakins in some Edward-Hopper-meets-Edward-Scissorhands phase, and that midway through it becomes a full-on Jewish morality play (the best kind since the morality is mostly like, fable and fatalism). There are literal chapter cards setting off sequences titled “The First Rabbi”, “The Second Rabbi”, etc., and I was delighted. Honestly this movie would make a very very good play, and this time that’s a compliment.