A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.
Folk music has never really been my thing, but it has been growing on me the past several months, just in time to see this pseudo-musical following a folk singer in 1961 New York. In fact, the first time I really every enjoyed the genre was from some music in the Coen brothers’ past film O Brother, Where Art Thou? when I was just 10 years old. That is an all-time great film, by the way, which is why I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Inside Llewyn Davis.
I think it was the trailer, paired with some of the music being played, but I came in thinking it would be sort of a whimsical, introverted, emotionally involved story of a struggling musician, but it’s really not like that. It’s a little more shallow, but I don’t mean that in a negative way. The film is based around some classic Coen brothers’ dialogue, harsh and unafraid and true interactions between friends, former friends, and business partners, all of which aren’t too fond of our lead man Llewyn. Oscar Issac, who I’ve only ever seen briefly in 2011’s Drive plays this hapless, broke musician who doesn’t have a home or a fuckin’ winter jacket. Almost everyone we meet in the film is also a day-to-day roommate of Llewyn [Llewyn’s choice, not theirs]. I mean, this guy can’t even take care of a cat, let alone manage the abortion for his friend Jean, who might be carrying his child [which is why the abortion is taking place].
When I said the film was shallow, I mean more in terms of the tone and feel of the film as opposed to the material. The film is almost lighthearted; it’s funny and quirky, but it isn’t telling a particularly funny or fun story. This is also a classic style of the Coens: taking some serious source material and presenting it in a naked, chuckle-inducing fashion, and that gives their films a lot of rewatchability [I’m coining the phrase]. You don’t have to lose yourself in the story and characters or keep your mind sharp to stick with the content. You can just sit back, relax, and enjoy.
And you can do that with this film. Kind of.
The main character and story are a little flat. I could see people being a little bored while watching this movie. The supporting actors and characters bring a lot of value, both developmental and comic. Carey Mulligan as the spiteful friend/ex-friend/ex-lover, Justin Timberlake as the goody-two-shoes folk singer, Adam Driver’s estranged baritone accompaniment, John Goodman’s even more estranged car passenger. They are all great. And I actually like Isaac as Llewyn, it’s just not a very interesting character on paper.
I also really liked the presentation of the film: the lighting, the editing, and the cinematography. It created a lot of really photogenic scenes that I feel will stick in my memory for a long time to come. It is really fitting of the genre and the time of the story it is telling.
2.5/4 – A decent addition to the Coen brothers’ long list of films, but nowhere near their best. While Inside Llewyn Davis sports a good supporting cast, has a great look to it, and features some decent tracks, the overall product is a little flat.