Set in 1961, Oscar Isaac stars as Llewyn Davis – a struggling folk singer in New York’s Greenwich Village on the verge of giving up his dream. To say life hasn’t been working out lately is an understatement. In truth, Llewyn’s life stinks right now.
He used to be part of a singing duo, but that partner left him, and no one thinks Llewyn is good enough to make it on his own.
He is forced to hop from couch to couch because he doesn’t make enough money to afford his own apartment.
His closest friend, Jean (Carey Mulligan), is extremely upset at him.
And, Llewyn has a chance to score a gig and maybe more in Chicago, so he’s heading out there with his guitar and the last sliver of hope he can muster.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a great reminder why Joel and Ethan Coen are such brilliant filmmakers. They present a movie with the strangest, yet most perfect, mélange of music, comedy, quirkiness, drama, and tragedy. It shouldn’t work, but it works so well it’s one of the few movies I want to see one more time.
At its heart, the Coens have given us the story of a man facing the end of everything he loves, and who can’t relate to that? Who hasn’t felt that fear?
In one of the most universal storylines, Llewyn Davis is everyman standing in the face of failure and harsh reality trying to beat the impossible foe. People want him to give up his dream, “grow up” and “get a real job”, but, despite all of the negatives and all of the ways the world is kicking him while he’s down, Llewyn is trying to keep the dream alive, so we like him.
Then, the Coens and Isaac show us Llewyn’s less likable side, too, which adds the needed layers of complexity to make Inside Llewyn Davis more interesting. He’s kind of a pompous jerk with a big mouth (very entertaining, but not always your choice for hero). Sure, we have some empathy for his troubles and travails, but the audience also notices how much of it Llewyn brings upon himself, and that’s why we are captivated with every moment of this epic week in his life. Each moment suggests some past action or event that led to this one, and the audience can delight in trying to figure it out.
Most of all, Inside Llewyn Davis has a great atmosphere and tone thanks to the Coens. It’s quirky. It’s funny. It’s heartbreaking. The audience feels like they have been transported back in time to a place and an era they can understand, even if they never grew up in the early 60’s, couldn’t name a folk song to save their lives or never owned a Dylan album.
Plus, you can’t talk about Inside Llewyn Davis without talking about the man playing him. Challenged with portraying a complex hero and singing many of the songs (he even arranged most of them!), Isaac is brilliant. He won’t ever get enough credit for everything he brings to this character because it is not written in the most showy way with all of the big ACTING that Oscar contenders tend to have on display, but he makes Llewyn Davis come to life, warts and all, with such great nuance and touch. It’s not always about the words coming out of his mouth. Isaac makes it about the look on his face, the rolling of his eyes or some incredulous reaction to the insanity around him.
It has amazing music (Please Mr. Kennedy should get the Oscar for Best Song), amazing acting and amazing writing. I just wish the Coens didn’t blow it with an ending that is too cute by half.
I think we all enjoy an ending that leaves a little mystery, but the ending to Inside Llewyn Davis is pointlessly meaningless and confusing. It doesn’t make sense and isn’t logical enough for the movie we just watched. This ending might even cost them an Oscar nomination for Best Movie.
Inside Llewyn Davis is rated R for language including some sexual references