Who knew folk music could be so depressing? Everyone? Oh, ok.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” is a glimpse inside the life of a folk musician named, you guessed it, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). Playing small bars and hopping from couch to couch, Llewyn is trying to find his path after the death of his musical partner. Along the way he crosses paths with a troublesome cat and a myriad of other talented musicians.
From the minds of Joel and Ethan Coen comes this somber tale of a musician who never catches a break and, let’s be honest, rarely deserves one. Whether it’s from losing his friend or his own personal demons, Llewyn is not the most likeable guy in the world. He sleeps around with people he shouldn’t, destroys dinner parties and talks down to anyone who doesn’t share his same musical ideals. Yet, in the neurotic world that we’ve come to expect from the Coens (“The Big Lebowski”, “Fargo”), he still manages to be a fairly decent person by comparison. The only other people you might want to spend more than five minutes with are Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Al (Adam Driver) but that’s about all the screen time either of them has anyway.
Some of the characters that Llewyn comes into contact with are a pair of traveling musicians (John Goodman and Garret Hedlund), a legendary music executive (F. Murray Abraham) and Jim’s partner (romantic and musical), Jean (Carey Mulligan), who may be the most insufferable of the lot.
The film is less about plot and more about watching Llewyn dive into his problems through music and relationships. He recognizes the unpopularity of both himself and his profession but strives to force people into his way of thinking. His dark emotions combined with the genre of music he’s putting out make for a somber tone throughout the film.
As dark as it may be at times, this is still a film made by the Coen brothers so there are plenty of laughs to be had. The cat that Llewyn is forced to look after for half the film is as unreliable as his caretaker, providing comic relief each time it tries to escape. John Goodman and Adam Driver both add some humor in their respective scenes as well, the latter adding some ridiculous vocals to the goofy protest number “Please Mr. Kennedy”.
Since most of the secondary characters come and go like the wind, a lot of the film rests on Oscar Isaac for both acting and musical performances. The latter is where he truly excels in the film. It’s one thing to sing sad music and it’s another to sing it to the point where the entire personality and anguish of a character comes through with a simple guitar and a voice.
While it probably isn’t the best work from the Coen brothers, it does feel distinctly fresh and carefully put together. The visuals, tone and pacing are all on point and make what could have been an insanely boring film into something enjoyable and artistic.
Coming next will be my review for “Philomena”, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. Until then, happy viewing.