A Serious Man
Nominated for two Oscars, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, the latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen features the shaggy-dog storytelling elasticity of Barton Fink, the gorgeously stark visual compositions that propelled Fargo, and a supporting cast -- a la O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Big Lebowski -- populated by hilariously off-kilter oddballs. But this time, the Coens wed their singular style to an intellectual probity and moral purpose. The story follows Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor about to come up for tenure at a Minnesota university, circa the late 1960s. All at once, though, everything seems to go to pot: his brother (Richard Kind) has moved in with him; a student (David Kang) attempts to bribe him to raise his grade; and his wife (Sari Lennick) announces that she's leaving him. Yet just at the moment when A Serious Man might have tipped over into snide mockery, it takes a glorious leap into the unknown. Larry's friends urge him to "go see the rabbi" to make sense of his problems. These scenes find the Coens driving straight to the complex heart of the film: What does it mean to be a faithful Jew surrounded mostly by Christians in a fundamentally secular society?
The Time Traveler's Wife stars Eric Bana as a guy named Henry who jumps around the past, present and future, only he can't control where or when he goes, or how he gets back. Rachel McAdams plays Clare, who comes to believe that Henry is her destiny. Bana and McAdams try their best, but the time-travel gimmick supersedes any depth or character development.
Couples Retreat follows four couples, all friends, lured to a Bora Bora resort. A sputtering if sporadically amusing mess, the movie gives the actors (including Vince Vaughn, Kristen Bell, Malin Akerman and Jason Bateman) nothing funny or deep to do.