'INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS' (R) (3 1/2 STARS)
Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Actors: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F Murray Abraham, Max Casella, Justin Timberlake.
Sometimes Joel and Ethan Coen can make a movie that becomes a mainstream hit, sometimes a bomb that becomes a cult classic and then there are their personal stories that they direct. That is why I love them as filmmakers because you never know what you will get, what an eclectic, glorious team they are! "Inside Llewyn Davis" is more of a personal, character study and valentine to folk music and the journey of a self indulgent artist. You can call it an art film but no one tells a story better than these guys. It is not a huggable movie but it is perfectly executed, amusing and a very well acted movie.
Oscar Isaac, in a breakthrough, bravura performance plays Llewyn Davis, a folk singer who is very self obsessed. He is not a joy to spend time with but by the end I felt sorry for him, call it the artist in me sympathizing with another artist who is going nowhere. Llewyn is not a star and he is struggling to sell his record after his partner killed himself. Llewyn Davis is estranged from his girlfriend who is pregnant, played by Carey Mulligan, he doesn't have a winter coat and he travels, sleeping on many friend's couches, having no home himself. He then will try to sell his album and try to play a few shows at a famous joint in Chicago. His is a depressing life traveling from small venue to old dives playing his music to little applause and clinking glasses.
Alleviating the depressing journey is Llewyn's encounter with a cat that escapes his friend's apartment and winds up traveling with Llewyn on subway cars to different gigs and to his girlfriend's apartment. The scenes with this cat are funny, charming and touching because this maybe the only creature that connects with Llewyn, maybe not, the cat does try to run away a few times. The story follows Llewyn as he plays his music, pisses off his friends and gets rejection after rejection. He gets bullied by a traveling partner, John Goodman, and we kind of know what will happen when Llewyn gets to Chicago.
Llewyn is not a happy person, he is lost and he rubs a lot of people the wrong way but after the first hour I started to like him. I felt the rejection that an artist who is not mainstream can get on the road and then I started to feel empathy for Llewyn. This is a character study and some movie goers will feel bummed out but I found the movie entertaining and fascinating and that can be credited to the Coens, Oscar Isaac and the rest of the great cast. The Coen brothers are masters at sucking us in and this maybe one of their most perfectly made movies and it is really funny.
The movie has wonderful music and great folk songs lovingly created and produced by T Bone Burnett, who did the same thing with the songs for the Coen brother's hit "O' Brother Where Art Thou?" Oscar Isaac sings them beautifully and the rest of the songs are authentic. I am a big fan of "The Kingston Trio" and there is a great performance by a group that perfectly reminded me of them. The movie is edited perfectly, I never felt there was an unneeded scene. That editing is by the Coens who go under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes. The movie is also shot beautifully by Bruno Delbonnel and I had to also check if that was a pseudonym for the Coens. The directing and storytelling are also perfect and there is not one bad camera shot.
Yes Llewyn is hard to like but you don't have to like a lead character to enjoy a story like this and a movie that is so well made. I never understood why some critics hate movies just because the lead character is a louse or jerk. I can identify with Llewyn so other movie goers will too, not everyone will hate him. The Coen brothers keep getting better and you can always expect something fascinating from them even if the movie isn't as great as some of their classics. "Inside Llewyn Davis" has some great storytelling, it looks beautiful, the performances by everyone shine and inside Llewyn you will find a strong will to survive through adversity.