To describe Joel and Ethan Coen’s grim comedy “A Serious Man” as a labor of love would be no small exaggeration.
For the brothers — whose adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel “No Country for Old Men” won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2007 — their latest offering is, in some ways, their most personal, set in their hometown — the small, predominantly Jewish Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park.
It’s also the movie they have been trying to make for more than a decade, since 1996’s “Fargo.” It is not, they maintain, what some critics say it is: A retelling of the story of Job.
“We recognize this isn’t going to be a huge movie,” says Ethan, 52, who claims he doesn’t care whether it resonates with audiences. “If we were going to make it, it had to be within a budget that wasn’t crazy.”
“Winning an Oscar helps,” adds Joel, 54. “This isn’t the kind of project that gets financed on the heels of movies that lost money.”
They’re right. “A Serious Man” is a religiously themed fable about a luckless man who appeals to God in his darkest hour, only to discover that God isn’t listening.
Like “No Country,” it’s bleak, and though hardly inaccessible, certainly not the stuff blockbusters are made of. Some audiences might take umbrage at the notion that God is a) asleep on the job, b) indifferent to appeals from below or c) simply not present.
Just don’t expect that to bother the Coens.
“We’re all working toward the same thing,” Ethan says. “We want to make a good movie, but at this point, we don’t feel attached to this one. We’ve already moved on, and we’re writing a new movie.
“This isn’t a Neil Simon comedy. We’ve shown this movie to the Jewish community and so far we haven’t heard a whimper of protest. If people like it, that’s great. If they don’t, well, that happens. But we wanted to make this movie for a long time, and suddenly we had the freedom to do it. That counts for something.”
IF YOU GO
A Serious Man
Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Aaron Wolff, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Running time 1 hour 45 minutes