Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Rated – R
Directed by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake
The Coen brothers have a gift in telling stories through ways that are both refreshing and challenging. Inside Llewyn Davis is both. Set in 1961 mostly in the Village, the Bob Dylan scene hasn’t caught on yet. We meet our protagonist, Llewyn Davis, a rude, self-centered, yet talented young man trying to make it in the music business. There’s no doubt he’s a great musician and a song-writer, but can he get a label to sign onto his somber folk tunes?
Possibly more importantly, do we want him to? The Coens throw a curve-ball to the typical struggling-talent trying to find his big break story by focusing on Llewyn Davis, who frankly just isn’t that nice of a guy. The only respectable things about him is that he’s pursuing his true passion and that he cares for his friend’s cat. Other than that, he’s a burden to his friends when he crashes on their couches frequently, he’s slept with one of his friends whom is married, he ruins dinner parties, and has a shaky relationship with his family.
Llewyn is a do-it-yourself kind of guy and jumps at the opportunity to travel to Chicago to audition for producer Bud Grossman in person, only after his manager has gotten him nowhere. This road trip is a delightful break from the lifeless routine Llewyn has been living in New York, and there are plenty of memorable scenes here. He rides along with Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) and jazz musician Roland Turner (a fantastic John Goodman) while engaging in some entertaining conversations. Goodman steals most of these scenes, but the road trip leads Llewyn to the most important scene of the film, when he meets with Grossman.
Oscar Isaac, who plays Llewyn Davis, gives a spectacular performance that will surely capture the attention of the public and awards voters. His anti-hero is filled with just enough sympathy that even as irresponsible as he is, we’re still pulling for him at the end of the film. Carey Mulligan has a small (and underused) supporting role as the one truly pissed off at Llewyn and she’s not afraid to express it. Aside from Isaac, the true captivating feature of the film is the music. It’s easy to be mesmerized by the stripped down folk songs heard throughout the film. The music and the whole folk culture adds richness and layers to a very simple plot.
What’s there to take from Llewyn Davis? Everyone can relate to his honorable attempt to struggle through the lows with a hope to finally achieve his true love. We can see through his sad and lonely eyes of a harsh world that has its sub-standards, which will always reject him. Is there hope at the end of Inside Llewyn Davis? After defeat has settled in and the story has circled back to the beginning, is there anywhere left for Llewyn to go? It’s certain he’ll return to what he knows best, losing himself in a heart-felt, honest folk song.