Friday, December 6, 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis - The Coens' Bittersweet Symphony

Inside Llewyn Davis Review

By Anne Brodie Dec 5, 2013, 15:10 GMT
Inside Llewyn Davis Review"Inside Llewyn Davis" follows an aspiring singer-songwriter (Isaac) as he navigates the 1960s folk-music scene in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Grammy-winner T Bone Burnett produced the film’s soundtrack which includes music performed by, among others, Oscar Isaac, Marcus Mumford and Justin Timberlake. Robert Graf served as executive producer, T Bone Burnett served as executive music producer and Marcus Mumford as associate music producer. ...more
The Coen Brothers set a new standard in the music film which is no surprise to anyone.  They have a way of making oddball masterpieces of each genre of film they’ve tackled and raising the bar, engaging the heart, soul and reason.  A kind of magic.
The semi-biographical Inside Llewyn Davis is set in the folk era 60’s in Greenwich Village, the same place where Bob Dylan made his mark along with Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary and changed the music landscape.   Musician Dave Van Ronk, whose story is told in Inside Llewyn Davis, must have been an interesting guy, as a small case “star” whose circle included the biggest folk music stars of the day.   Like the curse “may you live in interesting times”.
The Coens’ signature beautifully crafted and musically rich work takes a look at a man with two sides.  He has the heart and soul and voice of an angel, and the dark, hardened manner of a malcontent and iconoclast who can’t get ahead and indeed falls behind with every step.  To be fair he is obnoxious but he has suffered in love.   The Coens wrap him in love, in warm golden colors and in soft comforting music and eventually we understand his humanity.
In a single week, Davis goes through extraordinary life altering events that would flatten many of us, and he’s constantly giving up.  He’s homeless, a couch surfer looking for those recording contracts and paydays that never come and so he hits the road to Chicago during a blisteringly cold winter storm.  Life isn’t easy.
He has just enough money to pay for a little food and milk for the cat for which he’s responsible, there’s nothing much coming his way.  It’s a brutal hand he’s been dealt on a number of levels and the Coens play it out as romantic, a nostalgic Greenwich City dream that Davis doesn’t quite fit.  Davis’ personality constantly trips him up pitting his extraordinary talent and potential against a stubborn destructive isolation.   Aside from a university prof who treats him like a fun dinner party curiosity “our folk singer friend!” he doesn’t have much support.   His ex (Carey Mulligan) rains scorn on him at every opportunity particularly when she discovers she’s pregnant perhaps by him.  His male acquaintances including musicians played by Adam Driver and Justin Timberlake underestimate his appetite for self-destruction.
He screams about bullshit a lot but fails to read what’s in front of him, or refuses to.  He challenges people to like him and the world to look after him when he can barely stand himself. 
The cat whose name cannot be mentioned escapes when he’s leaving the prof’s apartment after sleeping on his couch, and Davis feels twinges of responsibility and panic.
The cat story indicates his desire to have something to love and care for except that he’s either losing or leaving it and forces him to acknowledge that he may have tender feelings where he knew of none.  The cat / cats are awesome!
The film sneaks up in its emotional power, where the Coen Brothers’ films generally start strong and get stronger, this one builds gently.   It’s hard to like Davis’ character but in the end he’s like any of us and the familiarity seals the deal.
The Coens nail it again, a character study that’s authentic and textured, without falling for the usual gimmicks to force us to empathize.  Think of their other characters and how they are flawed, unpleasant or dangerous and he fits.  Mind you the danger he poses is only towards himself.
35mm drama Written by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen Directed by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen Opens Dec 6 (limited) and wide Dec 20 Runtime: 105 minutes MPAA: 14A Country: USA Language: English

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