I wonder if Oscar-winning directors Joel and Ethan Coen were half-baked, stoned on marijuana, at their bar mitzvah.
Joel and Ethan Coen, known collectively as the Coen brothers, or just the Coens, collaborate on everything. They do so again on this dry comedy about a Jewish man having marital problems. Having a young Jewish boy attend his bar mitzvah high on drugs is about as wet as they go.
Michael Stuhlbarg stars as Larry Gobnik, a professor at a midwestern college in the late 1960s. His nice, uneventful, suburban life starts to become troublesome when his wife announces that she wants a divorce.
A series of even more troubling things follow. Anonymous letters sent to his boss threaten his tenure. His neighbors get increasingly hostile, and his brother Arthur, played by Richard Kind, gets pursued by the police.
Gobnik has no idea why any of this is happening, so he goes to a couple of rabbis for advice and answers. Gobnik questions his faith, but these religious figures offer no explanations, which may be the point of the Coens' subtle satire.
While the same style of humor is employed here, as in other Coen comedies, this film isn't nearly as funny. Their previous comedy Burn After Reading (2008) was an over-the-top farce. This one isn't as played for laughs. It doesn't even come close to Raising Arizona (1987) or Fargo (1996), in terms of cleverness.
There are some funny moments. It's just odd because the movie's story doesn't go anywhere. For example, the opening of the film involves a turn-of-the-century couple named Velvel and Dora who are visited by a dybbuk. It's a funny interlude, but it's never mentioned or referenced again. I wondered what was the point. Was it even related to the main story? If so, I didn't see it.
Like with No Country for Old Men (2007), the Coens have lost the ability to end a movie in any kind of satisfactory way. Just as the last act of their career-defining 2007 film made no sense, so does the last act of this one. Gobnik's wife wants a divorce but she never says why. She wants to hook up with a new guy but never says why.
Three Stars out of Five
Rated R for language, some sexuality, brief violence, and drug use
Running Time: 1 hr. and 45 mins.