Two very different stories, but both main characters have similar existential questions…. “Why did this happen to me?”
Leading men Colin Firth and Michael Stuhlbarg are excellent in their respective roles. Firth, known for his rather “fluffy” roles (Bridget Jones, Mama Mia) is riveting in this dark and melancholy film. Stuhlbarg, with a handful of minor film roles to his credit, plays a bemused and believable character.
Both men are in the teaching profession. George (Firth) , a university professor in 1962, is a single homosexual whose lover of 18 years died eight months prior in a car accident. A still grieving George who now sees his life as meaningless, makes plans to end this day with suicide. Firth displays very little emotion throughout the movie. He has had to hold many secrets “close to the chest” during his lifetime. He is good at it. However, there are scenes that subtly display, through the look in his eyes, the absolute disintegration of his soul and the question, “Why is this happening to me?” Because of George’s quite demeanor and bravado, the film and it’s ending left me deeply moved.
Stuhlbarg’s character, Larry, is also a university professor in 1967. In an unhappy Midwestern Jewish family, Larry, a physics professor is awaiting the decision on his receiving tenure. In the meantime, his wife is leaving him for his so-called best friend and his kids “raid” his wallet daily. His daughter is saving up for a nose job, and his son is paying money to the neighborhood brute to ward off being beaten up on his walk home from school. His crazy brother-in-law has taken up residence on the living room sofa, and one of Larry’s students gives him a cash bribe to assure a passing grade in his class. You’re waiting for Larry to say “oy vey”. However, Stahlbarg plays Larry not as a whiner, but as a hopeful man wondering, “Why is this happening to me?” and “What else can go wrong?” He visits three rabbis from his synagogue in hopes of finding an answer. Each visit ending with some humorous parable, but no answers. The ending is wryly true to the Coen brothers spirit of the malevolent.