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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sean Kelly

My Thoughts on Inside Llewyn Davis

inside_llewyn_davisFrom directors Joel and Ethan Coen comes this musical drama about a folk singer named Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), who struggles to find success in Greenwich Village scene of 1961.  Practically homeless, Llewyn resorts to crashing on his friend’s couches, while he watches the greater musical success of his friends Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan), the latter of whom has a very adversarial relationship with Llewyn, stemming from a one night stand that lead to an unwanted pregnancy.  With a cat in tow, Llewyn sets out on a trip to Chicago and meet with producer and club owner Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham), in a last ditch effort to keep his musical dreams alive.

Like the very songs that make up the folk music genre, Inside Llewyn Davis is a heartbreaking tale.  The film takes place in a time period immediately before Bob Dylan hit the scene and made folk music popular.  As such, Llewyn Davis has to struggle to make a living out of a musical genre nobody believes is going to make any money.  Llewyn receives one piece of bad news after another and cannot seem to catch a break.  To make matters worse, he has to care for his friend’s cat, who escaped as he was leaving their apartment.

Inside Llewyn Davis is arguably the most sombre and downbeat film that the Coen Brothers have directed.  However, that isn’t to say that the film isn’t completely devoid of humour.  There is an enjoyable sequence in the film, where Llewyn joins Jim and Al Cody (Adam Driver) in the recording of a novelty song, with some very ridiculous lyrics.  There is also a lengthy section of the film in the second act, in which Llewyn is travelling to Chicago with beat poet Johnny Five (Garret Hedlund) and jazz musician Roland Turner (John Goodman).  This is most definitely the section of the film that felt the most like the Coen Brothers’ previous films, especially Goodman’s character, who spends more of the trip criticising and insulting Llewyn.

Then of course there is the music.  Inside Llewyn Davis is what I would describe as a “diegetic musical,” in which all the songs in the film are performed by the characters.  The closest film I can think of in comparison is John Carney’s Once, which also happens to be a film about a struggle musician.  Like the Coen Brothers’ previous film O Brother Where Art Thou, producer T-Bone Burnett was brought on to arrange Inside Llewyn Davis’ soundtrack and I have to say that the songs, which consist of both traditional folk songs and original compositions, were definitely the most memorable aspect of the film.  In particular, the film’s signature song “Fare Thee Well” is one of the most haunting and melancholy songs I’ve heard.  Shame it’s not an original song, otherwise I’d be hoping for a Best Song Oscar nomination.

Inside Llewyn Davis is also very much a breakout role for Oscar Isaac, who most would recognize for his appearances in Drive and Sucker Punch, the latter of which also features him singing.  Much of the film is built around Isaac’s performance, with other characters coming and going as needed.  I looking forward to seeing more interesting roles from this actor in the years to come.

Overall I would say that Inside Llewyn Davis is a film that can be read in many different ways.  On the surface the film is about a struggling folk singer, who keeps on getting dealt lousy hands.  However, there seems to be a message underneath that, even if things look dour for you right now, you should never give up doing what you love.  You never know when you are going to luck out.

10 | LOVED IT  

Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described ├╝ber-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).