Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Grade: A-

Inside Llewyn Davis follows our title character as he desperately attempts to make a name for himself in the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Plagued with a homeless cat, an empty wallet and bad attitude, Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) fumbles through his increasingly disastrous life to what has to be the best movie soundtrack since 1983’s The Big Chill. Bob Dylan, Marcus Mumford, T-Bone Brunett and Tom Paxton all lend their music as either scene enhancers or as covers for the characters to sing in concert as if their own.

Thankfully, the Coen Brothers cast actors who were actually comfortable singing, meaning the musical numbers were not excruciating and awkward, as has been the trend of recent Hollywood Musicals (I’m looking at you, Russell Crowe). Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake do the best they can as Llewyn’s long-suffering friends/enemies (it was complicated) but are easily eclipsed by the wonderful and almost unknown Oscar Isaac’s effort as Llewyn. The Coens were so supremely lucky to find such a talented guitarist, vocalist, and comedic and dramatic actor all in one person. There’s no denying Llewyn’s a Class-A ass-hole, but through Isaac’s beautiful musical performances, excellent delivery of insults and sad eyes you can’t help but feel for the guy.

The major joy for me was that this film feels so un-Hollywood. Instead of following the classic (and tired) “guy-achieves-goal” story, there were numerous narrative threads that interweaved seamlessly, none of which ended the way one would expect or, for that matter, want. Yet it still delivered a fully formed protagonist as more and more of Llewyn’s difficult past is revealed. It also didn’t feel like a Coen Brothers film. That is, apart from John Goodman’s ludicrous stint as a vile Jazz musician, which seemed to serve the basic purpose of saying “chill out, we’re still the Coen Brothers!” I’m sure we’ve all seen John Goodman being John Goodman numerous times before, and I felt Inside Llewyn Davis was no place for John Goodman. Nevertheless, this sepia-soaked bad boy is a must-see and a must-listen, which I recommend you watch alone, and in the dark.
This article first appeared in Issue 1, 2014.
Posted 6:57pm Sunday 23rd February 2014 by Rosie Howells.