The Coen Brothers have a reputation for crafting very unique films that are almost always met with great critical acclaim. Inside Llewyn Davis is one of their simplest films, following a short part of the story of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). A struggling folk singer, he navigates life in Greenwich Village in the early 60’s. There’s also a cat.
Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake, and Coen Brothers favorite, John Goodman all co-star. Star Trek: Voyager fans will catch Ethan Phillips in the role of an old Jewish man, one of Llewyn’s only friends. This is a difficult film to review. On the surface, it’s pretty simple. A few cold days – both literally and figuratively – in the life of a man who is struggling with loss, depression, and desire for a career that is out of his grasp. There are some colorful characters, pretty much all of whom care more about themselves than Llewyn. Not that he seems to care much about any of them either.
It’s a difficult film to review because it’s more like experiencing just a few bits of someone’s life rather than a concrete story. We’re dropped right into the middle – or perhaps even near the end – of Llewyn’s story with no real back story. We get glean tidbits of who he is, who the people are in his life, and how he got where he is today, little by little, throughout the film. Below the surface there is a lot going on if you look for it. None of it is blatant, but there is a lot that could be interpreted as symbolism and metaphor if you choose to look at it that way as the whole film is pretty open to individual perception. Someone I was talking to is convinced that there is even an alternate timeline involved. I’m not sure about that, I’d have to go back and re-watch the film to decide, but it’s something to keep in mind while viewing.
The earnest dialogue that is both believable and a little bit surreal at times, making even the most mundane parts of the story incredibly watchable. However, Inside Llewyn Davis is worth watching for the soundtrack alone. Composed of re-recordings of folk songs sung primarily by Isaac, it’s both vibrant and melancholy. There is also a delightfully hilarious original song sung with Timberlake which I guarantee will get stuck in your head.
This is the type of film that grows on me the more I think about it. I wasn’t terribly excited while watching it, but thinking back, I chuckle or sigh at memories of various scenes, like memories of someone’s life. Maybe there’s more to it than meets the eye, maybe not. I like to think of it as a piece of the human experience which, like is said about folk songs, “…was never new, and never gets old.”
My rating: Four out of five hats
Inside Llewyn Davis strums into 148 theaters, December 20