Meet Llewyn Davis. The rugged musician is as handsome and gifted, as he is mostly intolerable. As a musician it is easy to become swept away by his melancholic lyrics and first-rate string work, but as the man behind the guitar, many would find his self-inflicted cycle of misadventures maddening. Set mostly around Greenwich Village during the burgeoning folk music movement of the 1960’s, Inside Llewyn Davis is yet another marvellous multi-dimensional film from the brilliantly obscure duo Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo, No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man).
When he’s not performing in niche bars and clubs, Davis spends most of his time squandering his undeniable talent treading water and drifting from couch to couch, slowly and carelessly draining every inch of their sympathy from the only friends that can still bear him. Oscar Isaac (Drive) plays the flawed yet charismatic and likeable Llewyn with supreme honesty and restraint. Isaac’s smooth and soothing voice makes each performance both captivating and heartbreaking. There is a cryptic darkness hidden within his songs that he (and the Coens) chooses not to discuss when offstage. One of the many strengths of the film is found in its outstanding music, particularly the opening song ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’ and the hilariously bizarre ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’ with Jim (Justin Timberlake – completely in his element here). If you appreciate Mumford and Sons, then you’ll certainly buy the soundtrack.
As per usual, the Coen Bros. have laced their latest offbeat entry with sharp dialogue and humour and surrounded Davis with a rich assortment of unusual and ‘funny-looking’ Coen-esque characters. Much of the comedy comes from how Llewyn interacts and responds (with snarky venom) to the peculiarities of the people around him. Carey Mulligan and John Goodman also provide great antagonistic banter in their scenes, pointing out the glaring holes in Lewis’ character and lifestyle.
The trouble with Llewyn Davis and many struggling artists, is that it’s not absurd of him to be chasing this dream of his. He has the talent to make something of his natural gifts, but as is so often the story, he simply isn’t in the right place at the right time.
Audiences may find it hard to warm to Davis, but for students and lovers of film, the Coen’s have made another dark, subversive comedy that is filled with longing and remorse. It’s a richly rewarding experience.