My experience with Inside Llewyn Davis is not like any I can recently recall off the top of my head. My appreciation for it came hours after watching it and declaring the film was a bit of a wet noodle.
The latest film from the Coen Brothers was unsatisfying. Then again, the film was the type of work from Ethan and Joel Coen that is not my cup o’ tea.
The Coen’s are excellent filmmakers and have dabbled in almost every genre imaginable. My favourites are their movies involving crime – Fargo and No Country for Old Men jump to mind. I even like when their brand of atypical humour share the screen with eccentric characters and scandals. O Brother, Where Art Thou and The Big Lewbowski are examples of how they were able to hit home runs with this winning combination.
The films I’ve had a hard time liking are the films where a well-meaning lead is belittled and degraded throughout the flick. I didn’t like when this happened in A Serious Man, and Inside Llewyn Davis followed in similar footsteps.
Oscar Isaac plays the title role with bitter, but endearing candour. Llewyn’s music career hasn’t taken off as strongly as he hoped it would after the departing of his long time collaborator. Now, he plays different gigs in local places and hopes they pay. He’s a wanderer who tries to adjust to his ever-changing surroundings while trying to hide his distain towards struggling artist dry spells.
Isaac is captivating as Davis, and he has one hell of a voice. You feel and hear every bit of his heart and soul as he makes each verse pack purpose.
The film’s soundtrack is an absolute standout. The folk songs are their own characters and the addictive tunes are – by far – the greatest attribute of Inside Llewyn Davis.
Inside Llewyn Davis has a free form. The film is a week-in-the-life documentation of how Llewyn couch surfs and lives with no plans on a minimal income.
Much like Llewyn, the Coen’s allow the airy pace to float along. Movie goers have no clue as to where Davis will end up, and I had a feeling the Coen’s didn’t know either. This structure feels like a great fit for a little while, but soon grows tedious as it becomes more apparent that the film isn’t exactly going anywhere in particular.
Pardon the pun, but Inside Llewyn Davis is a one-note film. A lot of people dogpile onto Llewyn as he deals with big wigs who constantly push him away. The Coen’s take this formula and wash, rinse, and repeat. The constant nagging and Llewyn’s nice guy stubbornness is like watching a live action Charlie Brown cartoon. Actually, Carey Mulligan’s Jean Berkey does pull the football out from underneath Llewyn at one point with climactic news.
The film, along with Mulligan’s presence, features small supporting characters who fleetingly enter Llewyn’s life. These appearances have their amusing moments. John Goodman steals every instance he’s on screen as he plays a drifting, craggy musician, and Justin Timberlake’s ditzy spryness during a performance of Please, Mr. Kennedy brings out smiles.
The major hangup, however, is that the Coen’s never have these characters stick around. Because they’re in Llewyn’s life as quickly as they part ways, movie goers have a hard time investing into the acquaintances. Most of the actors don’t have enough time to make any sort of impact with their roles.
I found Inside Llewyn Davis to be a very flat movie, giving audiences very little apart from the excellent music and some capable performances. It didn’t resonate as well as it should have, and I had a hard time figuring out who this film was geared towards.
Now, bear with me. If this review becomes too personal, apologies in advance. It’s the only way I can really describe how I came to a conclusion resulting in me finding admiration in this grey flick.
Hours later, I kept thinking about the Coen Brothers’ plain movie while humming Isaac’s Hang Me, Oh Hang Me. I then noticed a lot of things happening around me (including meet ups with friends and coworkers) that were like the motions Llewyn went through. Even observations were uncanny. As I thought up how to write this very review, I was going through a creative process that was akin to how Davis rehearses.
That’s when it hit me. I had a difficult time feeling out Inside Llewyn Davis. As I let the movie sink in, I realized that the Coen’s have made a movie that’s for anyone who ever pursued a hobby, a craft, or a certain art. You don’t need couch surfing experience or have had to bum money off of your friends to find a connection in the world of the “starving artist”, but the highs and lows of maintaining a passion for an area of succession are universal. In that case, the Coen’s have done a wonderful job at providing a representation of this love/hate relationship.
Post epiphany, I still think the film is aimless to a fault. I don’t have any desire to revisit Inside Llewyn Davis, even though I’ll be listening to the soundtrack on repeat in the near future.
However, I have no problem admitting that I appreciate what Joel and Ethan Coen have done. Like always, these two brave filmmakers have tackled a movie that’s a tough code to crack. There is importance within their acclaimed work and a worldwide relation beneath the sheet music and guitar strings. For that, I can’t simply knock it as a failure.