Do you have something you’re passionate about in life? Better put, do you have something you’re passionate about that you want to be your full-time career? Is it something you’ve dedicated your time, money, effort, thoughts, feelings…hell, damn near your entire life to? I do.
And I’ll tell you what, dedicating a lifetime of energy to something you love (you’re uh, reading part of it) sometimes bites you right in the behind. When you reach the age of 40 and see your credit cards are maxed out and the industry you felt so strongly about has crumbled under the stress of wannabes, vapid corporations and careerists who have less than half the talent you do but still score all the best gigs, you can get more than a little disappointed. I bring all this up as a way to say, I truly relate to the lead character in “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
Granted, I’m not a musician. But I know several and I’ve managed bands and in the cold, deep, dark of night after playing a gig to 12 people while some Johnny-come-lately band that used to open for you now has a top 40 record, existential dilemmas can creep into your bedroom and roost right on your chest. While “Inside Llewyn Davis” isn’t totally about questioning yourself as a creative entity, it’s definitely part of it.
But what makes the film so outstanding is that this question gets layered into many other ones and, as usual, The Coen Brothers offer very little in terms of telling you what you should think. And as is also typical of the slippery Coens, you can never be quite sure if there’s deeper meaning in some of their scenes and situations or if they’re just floating ideas out there in order to mess with people who want to over-analyze their work. Whatever the case(s) may be with “Inside Llewyn Davis,” this is a film I can’t seem to stop watching nor do I want to. It’s thought-provoking, entertaining, funny and sad. I love this film.
As usual, the characters in this Coen Brothers film are unique and diverse. While some have come down a bit heavily on the titular character for being, well, an a*****e, I don’t have a problem with Mr. Davis’ attitude. Sure, he’s kind of a lousy ne’er do well, but part of the intrigue is seeing if this incredibly talented yet unlucky (and dickish) troubadour will either catch a break or get his act together.
Another point of intrigue is that Davis isn’t alone on his plight to be heard. Local hipsters Jim and Jean (Timberlake, Mulligan) recognize Davis’ talent and allow him to share the bill at their popular hootenannys at a local Greenwich Village coffee shop (the Gaslight, which will become legendary in the 60’s folk scene…eventually) and frequently crash on their couch. He does nothing to repay them for their kindness but frequently asks for more. Same with local college Prof’s “The Gorfeins.”
Mitch and Lillian Gorfein are a sweet but bourgeois couple who live a nice life with their cat. Sometimes when Llewyn has worn out the proverbial cushion on someone else’s couch, the Gorfeins let him sleep on theirs. In exchange they only want a little interaction and song from a burgeoning singer/songwriter. Llewyn can rarely bring himself to give them that. And, why is that? Is Llewyn sick of singing for his supper? Is he tired of being trotted out like a wind-up toy for the entertainment of others? Has the day-to-day strain of trying to make a living being creative become a road that’s reached its end? Again, “Inside Llewyn Davis” posits all these possibilities (and more) but doesn’t give you an easy answer.
Oscar Isaac is flat-out amazing as Llewyn Davis. As the screenwriter Brian Koppelman said on Twitter the other day, Isaac is truly a “5-tool player” in terms of acting. I’m not sure which specific 5-tools Koppelman was alluding to, but I think it has to do with Isaac’s ability to hold a scene and make you angry one second yet you can totally relate to him the next. He can sing beautifully and he has a certain kind of quiet swagger in this film that really brings Llewyn Davis to life.
I also loved the somewhat shrill performance of Carey Mulligan as the put upon yet “lady doth protest too much” Jean. Here’s a woman who is as sick as Llewyn is at her place in life yet she keeps putting herself out there…in more ways than one. And for what? She’s clearly harboring some anger and resentment at her situation but seems as trapped by it as Llewyn does. Yet she never tries to change things and when Llewyn attempts change, even that blows up in his face.
It’s taken me a little over a month to try and wrangle my feelings about this film into a somewhat coherent “review,” and I’m still not sure if I’ve succeeded. I’m totally taken with this film and I’m not even all that big of a Coen Brothers fan.
I also typically avoid any and all chatter about a film I’m going to review so as not to become influenced by others. But “Inside Lleweyn Davis” is such an intriguing film, I couldn’t wait to have a conversation about it and see what others thought. And many other film critics have been moved to write some very compelling pieces about the film. For my money these articles by Glenn Kenny, Sam Adams and Devin Faraci provided my favorite thought-provoking looks at the film. “Inside Llewen Davis” is a wonderful, entertaining and intriguing film that I feel will be talked about for years to come.