Inside Llewyn Davis

Director: Ethan and Joel Coen

Starring: Oscar Isaacs, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake, F. Murray Abraham

Rated: R (Language including some sexual references)

A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.

 

Inside Llewyn Davis

By Cole Schneider

ILD has no opening credits. Instead the film opens with Llewyn playing at the Gaslight Cafe in 1961. Why no opening credits? Because to get inside Llewyn we must think as he thinks–soulfully. He’s no careerist; he’s a folk singer. Truthfully, though, Llewyn is also a loser. He floats from couch to couch waiting for someone important to recognize his talent and while life isn’t kind to him, he doesn’t help himself either. ILD works best as the sublime, melancholy b-side to the Coen’s Homeric “O Brother Where Art Thou”.

ILD suggests much about the journey of an artist and how it relates to his/her destination. What is suggested is a duality. It’s true the artist may toil forever in a loop of despair, but it’s also true that if the artist has both ability and luck, the destination may be more promising. The Greenwich folk music scene did spawn Bob Dylan. The Coen’s themselves are artists who made it out of the vortex of Hollywood. In this way, ILD isn’t as much a somber tragedy as it is a refractive meditation on art, their makers, and the role that time, place, and chance play in their destinies.

It is Joyce rather than Homer that we find here, and just as Joyce was a master of modernist literature, the Coens have established themselves as masters of modern film and ILD may indeed be their masterpiece. It’s a layered work touching on life and mortality, and it’s telling that the ancillary elements of filmmaking take a backseat. The acting, cinematography, and production design are sung in perfect pitch.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

 

Inside Llewyn Davis

By Matt Greene

The Coens are arguably the greatest American filmmakers going today, and “Inside Llewyn Davis” is no exception to this theory. However, we can’t judge ILD like their other films, or like many other films period. Instead, it begs to be critiqued like a great folk song: simple yet elegant, layered and lyrical, stark yet brightly colorful, familiar yet utterly new, funny but ultimately somber.  This is musical cinema at its most pure, placing us firmly within the main characters shoes, forcing us to ask, “Who are these people on stages that we idolize?”

ILD follows folk-singer Llewyn as he struggles to find a balance between life, relationship, business, and art. But unlike many struggling artist films, we aren’t made to simply feel the plight of this guy’s fight for notoriety and mourn his ambiguity. Instead Llewyn, phenomenally played by Isaacs, is an extremely abrasive albeit immensely talented character. His life is an endless cycle of minor highs and crushing lows. So despite the many colorful and self-centered characters we meet, played by a whose-who of “Hey! It’s that guy!”’s, Llewyn has only himself to blame.

The original soundtrack, written by T-Bone Burnett and performed by the actors, is the best I have heard since “Once”. They have nailed what it feels like to be a musician. The songs alone are enough of a reason to recommend, if it weren’t also for the hilarious script, strong performances and stronger themes. ILD will stay stuck in your head like a catchy, beautiful song long after you leave the theatre.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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