I had been trying to give my money to any theater willing to take it for a ticket to see Inside Llewyn Davis for over a month now. I even just walked up to posters of the movie and forcefully jammed my cash into the face of Oscar Isaac, hoping that a ticket would magically come out of the bottom. But all it did was get my money all dirty when it fell on the ground. Lo and behold, this past weekend, the Regal theater by my place finally decided to screen the film! I mean, I’m thrilled that every theater in America decided to play the (now 4% on Rotten Tomatoes) Legend of Hercules movie starring the neckless meathead from Twilight on its opening weekend, but maybe they could have sought to wide release the newest critically acclaimed film from the legendary Coen Brothers a little quicker than four weeks in limited? I guess I’m saying that I don’t understand the release strategy for this film, and I’m a little bitter that I had to wait as long as I did to finally see it, because I ended up loving it and wished I could have seen it twice by now.
Inside Llewyn Davis follows the life of the titular homeless folk singer (played by Oscar Isaac) in Greenwich Village in the winter of 1961. He’s attempting a solo career, but struggling to find success. By the time we meet him, he’s already burned many bridges and is scraping by sleeping on a couch to couch basis. Well, I know that sounds depressing as I write it, but it’s actually a pretty funny movie. But in a depressing, Coen Brothers kind of way!
Under the surface, Inside Llewyn Davis is about an artist struggling to come to grips with the fact that he’s not going to make it; that he’s only a mediocre talent. And that’s where the film becomes all too relatable. As a fellow professional in the creative field, I know I’ve definitely had a few of those times when I thought I was really doing something good, then I went public with it and opened it for criticism, and instead of a resounding “That sucks”, I’ve just been left with a “Ehhhh, ya know, it’s alright, I guess. I don’t know. It’s… uhhhh. … ok.” And it makes you question everything you’ve been doing. I can work with a “That sucks.” I can’t do anything with a “Eh, I don’t see this going anywhere.” And that’s what this film is essentially about. A guy who, as far as we can tell, is good at what he does; but is left with almost unanimous feedback that he should move on and try something else. It’s basically the most common struggle with being an artist. That’s why there are Applebee’s restaurants in Hollywood with an entire wait staff filled with aspiring actors. They probably have more potential selling onion blossoms than being the next Johnny Depp, but they keep trying in hopes of doing something with their talent.
But despite the fact that Llewyn isn’t going anywhere with his “sub-par” music, the film still has a magnificent soundtrack. The kind of soundtrack I downloaded immediately upon getting home from the film (I don’t do that very often). Every musical performance in the film is oozing with emotion, and it’s not hard to get lost in the passion that the characters have for their craft. And the fact that all of the music in the film flows so well with the story was very appreciated. In a lot of films or television shows, these kinds of live music performances either take me out of the moment, or destroy the pacing. Take HBO’s Treme for example. A decent show with a decent story, but every other scene is an irrelevant jazz band or indian nation song that goes for three full minutes, and eventually it just drags the show to a halt. We get it! New Orleans likes their horn music… But at almost no point do any of the infinite amount of performances on Treme ever relay the emotions of the characters that I care about watching on the show. Treme is a textbook example of how not to pace a story with music. Inside Llewyn Davis, however, is the perfect example of how to do the correct opposite. Because when I’m watching the many performances in Llewyn Davis, I’m learning things about the characters; the story is evolving through the music, whether it be an earnest song (“The Death of Queen Jane”), or a hilarious novelty song (“Please Mr. Kennedy”). OUTERRRRR. …SPAAAAACE. You’ll probably laugh at that if you’ve seen the movie, it’s hard not to. The music progresses the film, it doesn’t detract from it.
(side note: if you like the music from the film, Showtime is currently airing a live music special called Another Day, Another Time, which features many great artists playing music from and inspired by the film. It’s pretty good)
And now for a half-assed transitional attempt… One thing both Treme and Inside Llewyn Davis did correctly was utilize the brief services of John Goodman. He’s awesome, as usual, when placed in a Coen Bros movie. He just reads their dialogue the best way possible. In fact, all of the supporting cast was magnificent. Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and Adam Driver make good use of their roles as the other folk singers. And the quiet role of Johnny Five, as played by, uh I want to say Garrett something (the kid from Tron Legacy) was even good. But they were all overshadowed by the title role played by Oscar Isaac. That dude nailed it. He made me feel things. I’m aware that he was kind of an asshole, but if you can’t understand why he’s an asshole, then you didn’t get the movie.
In typical Super Coen Bros fashion, there were tons of moments in the film where completely weird, contemplative things happen out of nowhere, and they go left to our imaginations to figure out. Story altering elements will occur, and shift the plot completely, and won’t be revisited upon. I guess it’s a statement on life, on how things happen for no reason and you’ll never know what could and couldn’t have been, had this or that not happened. The choices we all choose to make, and whatnot. But regardless of the often bizarre nature of storytelling that the Coens always insert into their films, I wasn’t really expecting to question the cyclical nature of time itself in a movie about a homeless folk singer. BUT I DID. And don’t even get me started on the cat.
Inside Llewyn Davis is probably my favorite Coen Bros movie since No Country For Old Men. It’s great. However, I’m not sure it’s for everybody, and I could see how some people would consider it too strange or too uneventful. And I know art is subjective or whatever, but I think they’re dead wrong. It’s such a deep, rich film full of genuine emotion. After a few days of letting it simmer in my gullet, it’s still almost all I can think about. I need to find time to see it again. And then buy it on Blu-ray. And watch it five more times. I don’t know, I really really really enjoyed this film. It made me feel fuzzy inside. [looks at Lunchables packaging I just ate; notices it’s past its expiration date; feels additional fuzzy feeling inside]
9.5 out of 10