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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ worthy Coen canon entry

    Anton+Capital+Entertainment
    Anton Capital Entertainment

    “Inside Llewyn Davis” focuses on the eponymous folk singer as he tries to navigate the folk music scene in New York at the beginning of the 1960s, right before Bob Dylan arrives on the scene. Those familiar with the works of brothers Joel and Ethan Coen will find a lot to like here, but the incredibly scant plot may turn off those not well-versed with the directors’ style. However, everyone can enjoy the movie’s top-notch soundtrack, and the film looks stunning.

    It’s the winter of 1961 in New York’s Greenwich Village, and Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) is a struggling folk singer who doesn’t even have a proper coat for the frigid conditions. When he performs with his trusty guitar in hand, he occupies his own world removed from the dives he plays in. His voice is vulnerable and his distinct melancholic songs are different from the rest of the folk scene. However, both his conditions and personality outside of performance leave Llewyn a decidedly less-than-sympathetic character. He just can’t get it together. He has recently become a solo act, since his partner threw himself off of the George Washington Bridge. He crashes on whoever’s couch is available and has an air of superiority over all of the other folk artists surrounding him. In his mind, he’s the only legitimate artist, and everyone else is a joke. His friend Jean (Carey Mulligan) is the only person who doesn’t put up with his crap and blisteringly pesters him about what he’s doing with his life. As an artist, he scoffs at these questions and only throws them back at her. He can harmonize marvelously when in song, but he can’t harmonize his life with the lives of others.

    The film’s greatest source of beauty and its biggest detractor are one and the same. (Would we have it any other way with the Coen brothers?) Nothing really happens in this movie. Joel Coen himself joked that the film was sort of devoid of a plot. After he and his brother Ethan Coen realized that, he said, they threw in Ulysses — the cat that Llewyn accidentally lets escape out of a friend’s house. He spends the rest of the movie trying to hunt down the cat, but in the meantime lives what we assume to be a typical week in the life of our titular character. He does a recording of the gimmicky song, “Please Mr. Kennedy,” alongside Jim Berkey (Justin Timberlake), and foregoes receiving any royalties for cash on the spot, in order to pay for Jean’s abortion procedure. It should be noted that Jim and Jean are dating, but Llewyn got Jean pregnant. Also, Jim was the one who set up the recording gig. Isn’t Llewyn grand?

    Anyway, all of Llewyn’s endeavors to make himself a success are thwarted, either by his own hand, fate or bad timing. The movie itself is actually quite uneventful. Although this is the perfect structure for a film revolving around a man who always stays in the same place in his life, who can never regress or progress, it does nothing to raise the pulse of the audience. There are no emotional peaks or valleys — just plateaus.

    The film is shot beautifully, with everything in a very warm, soft focus, recalling a past time that’s long gone by. Winter in New York is bleak, with a muted color palette of whites, blacks, grays and browns.

    Of course, a film revolving around a music scene will rely heavily upon said music, and this is the film’s strongest component. T-Bone Burnett, a long-time collaborator with the Coen brothers who was behind the hugely successful “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack, crafted the songs of “Inside Llewyn Davis.” “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song),” the film’s most recognizable song, is performed by Isaac and Marcus Mumford (of Mumford & Sons). The song becomes a theme of sorts for Lllewyn, as it’s the only one to be featured multiple times throughout the film. Another song that deserves special recognition is “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” which first introduces the audience to Llewyn. Isaac, along with Mulligan and Timberlake, performed their songs live while on set. Isaac’s voice harbors the pain and soul of Llewyn, and you can tell he is still acting his role as he sings.

    This film contains a lot of the familiar tropes of a Coen brothers’ movie, including an incompetent male protagonist and a strong female with her head on straight. Man’s futile attempts to craft plans in an unknowable and unpredictable universe has also been fair game for the directors. Here, the tone is heavier, and the ending is one of gloom and pessimism where Llewyn leads a Sisyphean life, his boulder perhaps being his guitar. At first glance, this may not seem like a very notable entry to the Coen library, considering its flatline plot, but given Llewyn’s ability to hold his head high in the company of the classic characters created by the Coen brothers — Barton Fink, Marge Gunderson and, of course, The Dude — it certainly is.

    Grade: A-

    Follow Alex Guyton @TDWildcatFilm

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