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The Coen Brothers Man Up

The Coen Brothers Man Up (photo)

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“A Serious Man” marks Ethan and Joel Coen’s return not only to the Midwest for the first time since “Fargo,” but to an era they know well from growing up in Minnesota’s St. Louis Park during the 1960s. As a New Yorker profile of local son Senator Al Franken recently noted, the heavily Jewish suburb has given birth to a generation of such acute thinkers as the Coens and Thomas Friedman. Yet when we meet Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a harried physics professor at the local college, he is a man utterly bereft of answers.

As he faces a decision on his tenure at work, Gopnik is plagued by troubles on all fronts — his wife (Sari Lennick) wants a divorce, his children Danny and Sarah are selfish brats, and his brother’s (Richard Kind) prolonged stay on the family couch exacerbates matters. Even Gopnik’s rare escape from his problems in the form of gazing at a nude sunbathing neighbor (Amy Landecker) brings up moral dilemmas that he attempts to solve via the counsel of three rabbis, all of whom are more interested in digressive stories about Hebrew-inscribed teeth and parking lots than the problems of the downtrodden academic. But in his quest to talk to the revered Rabbi Marshak, the Coens’ bizarro “Wizard of Oz” becomes one of their most densely layered films to date, as well as one of the most bitingly funny, as Gopnik grapples with the pressures of his faith and his need for self-preservation. In Toronto, I had a lighthearted conversation with the Coens, who finish each other’s sentences, about how personal their latest film actually is and the weirdness of bar mitzvahs.

Between this film and your upcoming adaptation of Michael Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” you’ve been steeped in Judaica for the past couple years. What sparked the renewed interest?

Joel Coen: “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” was a bit of a coincidence, actually, coming on the heels of this.

Ethan Coen: It just fell into our laps. The producer Scott Rudin had bought the rights to the book and asked us to adapt it, write a screenplay. We just read the book and liked it. But we had already written this, it was before we shot this that we agreed to do the script for that.

As someone who spent some time at a Hebrew school, I know that can be an experience some would never want to revisit.

JC: We have a little perspective on it now because we’ve been away from it for so many years, so it seemed more interesting or funny or exotic or something to revisit now that…

EC: It must be one of those things there are seven stages of…

JC: Of denial…

EC: With flight…

JC: [laughs] Yes, denial, acceptance…

EC: And one of those later stages.

JC: Rage. [laughs]

EC: Nobody goes to Hebrew school and doesn’t feel rage at some point. [laughs]

09302009_ASeriousMan2.jpgWas it the right time for this film because you have the perspective for it, or because as filmmakers you have the clout to tell this particular story the way you’d want to tell it?

JC: I think all of those things are part of it. We’re a little older. The clout to make it? That one maybe not, but maybe. We might not have considered it early on just because it would’ve seemed so iffy. On the other hand…

EC: Yeah, you’ve got to be kind of established to have done this movie. It’s really true.

JC: Although “Barton Fink” was pretty weird at the time. But we had already done a number of movies at that point, too. [“A Serious Man”] would’ve been hard to do as a first or second movie, unless you were willing to go much lower budget than we were.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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