After the unbridled misanthropy of Burn After Reading, Joel and Ethan Coen return to the more affectionate tone of their most endearing films (Fargo, The Big Lebowski). Noted stage actor Michael Stuhlbarg stars as a put-upon physics professor at a small Minnesota college; his wife wants to leave him, his dysfunctional brother won't move out of their house, and his upcoming tenure vote is complicated by a cash bribe from a pushy South Korean student. The Summer of Love is just beginning, and the movie's funniest motif is its intermingling of Judaic teaching and the Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow LP. Like the Coens' protagonist in The Man Who Wasn't There, Stuhlbarg is driven to an existential crisis, but in contrast to the earlier movie, with its tired noir moves, this 2009 feature is earnestly engaged in the question of what constitutes a life well lived.
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