The Coen brothers have created a nearly peerless filmography.
Their most recent offering is a little ditty called ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’.
The year is 1961. NYC’s Greenwich Vilage is home to a thriving music scene. Among their numbers is Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), once part of a duo until his partner committed suicide. Now Llewyn is drifting around aimlessly as a solo artist, sleeping on friends’ couches.
Among his friends are folk duo Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan). Complicating matter is that Jean confides in Llewyn that she is pregnant and that it may be his. She isn’t happy and asks him to give her the money to have it…ahem…taken care of. He obliges and is literally down to his last few dollars. At this appointment, he learns some startling information that helps to spur him into action.
Facilitating his road trip, he gets a paying session gig which is great. What isn’t so great is that he loses the cat of a friend who is letting him stay at their place.
Will this guy ever get a break?
There isn’t really much of a plot to the story. Just like our protagonist, it drifts along, never really progressing. Surely that was intentional. Still, thank goodness for that cat and a few personal connections to launches Llewyn into semi-action. Much of the story seems like an excuse to take us from one (certainly well-crafted) musical interlude to another.
Much like some other latter-day Coen Brothers stories, (‘A Serious Man’ and ‘Burn After Reading’) this feels like one of their subtle works that were born to fly under the radar. If you think back to their filmography, they were untouchable for the first 15 years. Ever since 2001, they have taken a lot chances, some were wildly successful, some were utter failures and some were in this third, above-mentioned category. This falls into that last one. In fact, this feels like a continuation of ‘A Serious Man’ with a lead whose woes are mostly self-inflicted instead of having fate conspire against him.
Many critics have heaped praise upon the film, much of it very deserved, but I wouldn’t want most movie-goers to be thrown off by this and disappointed by the slow pace. At least ‘Nebraska’ had a constant sense of motion to it, it takes some time for that to develop with this story.
The main character isn’t especially likeable which is a challenge. This isn’t to say Isaac isn’t good in his role, but Llewyn is so irresponsible, stubborn and selfish, he simply can’t get out of his own way. His role amounts to an extended cameo, but John Goodman adds a whole new level of fun to the movie. Everyone else seems to have a very small part in this. Most, if not all, are enjoyable to watch, but only a few people get extended screen time.
Special features include: a reasonably extensive featurette on the conception and creation of the film.
While ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is technically a good movie, it is easier to admire than to truly love. This project seemed to be very personal to the Coens. Whether that truly translates to a larger audience down the line and whether the passage of time is kind to this story will be interesting.
Rated R 105 minutes 2014