It is 1967 and Larry Gopnik, a physics professor at a quiet Midwestern university, has just been informed by his wife Judith that she is leaving him since she has fallen in love with one of his more pompous colleagues. His domestic woes accumulate: his unemployable brother Larry is sleeping on the couch, his son Danny is playing hooky from Hebrew school, and his daughter is sneaking money from his wallet in order to save up for a nose job.
Also, a graduate student seems to be trying to bribe him for a passing grade while at the same time threatening to sue him for defamation, thus putting in jeopardy Larry's chances for tenure at the university. As if all this wasn't enough, he is tormented by the sight of his beautiful next door neighbor sunbathing nude.
Larry's search for some kind of equilibrium is conveyed with the kind of humor, imagination, and verbal wit that have made the work of Ethan and Joel Coen so distinctive.