Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis photo starrating-3stars.jpgOn the surface, Inside Llewyn Davis would appear to be the Coen Brothers in O Brother, Where Art Thou? mode. And it is to an extent, but the display of somber misanthropy makes this more of a spiritual cousin to their 2009 comedy A Serious Man. The picture is the portrait of a man in despair. The setting is the folk music scene of the early 1960s in Greenwich Village. The period right before Bob Dylan hit it big and changed things forever. Llewyn (pronounced Loo-Win) was half of the folk duo Timlin & Davis. But his singing partner, Mike Timlin, jumped off the George Washington Bridge. He’s clearly grieving the loss of his buddy, but he’s got a lot of other reasons why he’s pretty ticked off too.

Lleyen Davis is a skillful performer, although his career is an epic fail. He’s down and out with no permanent address of his own. He sleeps from couch to couch. A moocher relying on friends, crashing at one house after another. To say that Lleyen Davis is a bit insufferable is an understatement. Some Upper West Side types give him a solid meal and provide a place to stay. However when they ask if he’ll grace them with a song, he screams at them “I’m not a trained poodle!!” His talent remains impressive but his personality is not. I mean the movie starts with him getting beaten up in an alleyway by a patron. It isn’t until the end that we find out why. Llelyn Davis is a first class performer but he’s also a first class jerk.

Part of the humor is that Llewyn sees himself as the real deal while everyone else are pretenders. Yet to his bewilderment, they are all more successful. On one hand there’s pleasant sounding but generic folk singer/army guy Troy Nelson (Stark Sands). Then there’s clean cut singing pair Jean (Carey Mulligan) and Jim (Justin Timberlake). Why does the audience at the Gaslight Cafe respond to them so enthusiastically? Sellouts! They’re all just simply existing while he’s living. Jim actually gets him a job playing session guitar on a song that he wrote “Please, Mr. Kennedy.” “Hey look, I’m happy for the gig, but who wrote this?“ Llewyn sincerely asks unaware. It’s implied he thinks Jim is just a novelty-song-writing hack. Personally I thought the song was kind of catchy.  Incidentally that very song is being promoted in “For Your Consideration” ads for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards.

Ever wonder why someone with a lot of ability never becomes a star? Inside Llewyn Davis doesn’t answer that question, but it does reflect upon it. The chronicle is the meandering tale of an unpleasant man with a lot of talent. A week in the life. It’s not an easy movie to love, but it is worth seeing. Two things set the production apart. (1) One, the music is outstanding . The soundtrack is filled with covers of old folk songs most of which are sung by actor Oscar Isaac who also plays the guitar. “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” and “The Death of Queen Jane” are particularly bewitching. (2) Two, the cinematography is stunning. A great cinematographer can take a really bleak subject and evoke an exquisite mood. Bruno Delbonnel does that. He makes dark smoky nightclubs and cold, bleak winters look positively inviting. But he doesn’t merely create mood, he creates emotion. I didn’t care for Llewyn Davis as a human being but it’s not necessary or even required to like him. In fact therein lies the comedy. I was oddly transfixed by the film. Throughout it all he encounters a cadre of oddball characters that never seem quite as odd as the man himself.

22 Responses to “Inside Llewyn Davis”

  1. You don’t make it sound like an oscar winner. 😦

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Nice review. I’m a huge fan of the Coens and I’ll try to see this within the next few weeks.


  3. You don’t love this as much as I would have hoped, but it’s still my most anticipated of the year. Cannot wait to see it. Love the folk-scene. Love the Coen Brothers. Combine the two and you have me in heaven.


  4. There isn’t really much of a plot at all, but that didn’t bother me a single bit since I loved just watching Llewyn wherever he went, what he said and how many layers of his character we got to see. He’s a dick, but he shows small signs of changing his ways and being nice, and that was more than enough to keep me aboard the journey. Good review Mark.


    • I was definitely captivated by the story. I wanted to know what happened next. Although I’m not sure how much he changed. It ended with him getting punched for berating that poor old singer woman at the club. I think Llewyn is destined to the life he brought upon himself.


  5. i wish i liked this more. i felt quite disconnected to it. but i liked what it was trying to say. i liked the performances more.


  6. Being that this will be my second (I think) go-around with the Coens, I will tread lightly, especially since our protagonist here doesn’t sound much like a protagonist. Self-centered, rude people make for some tough films to like but you make it sound like it’s tolerable. I’m eager to find out for myself.


  7. I loved the music, however, the movie as a whole, was just ok. I could not connect with the main character. I understand he had lost his partner and was possibly grieving, but come on, did he have to be such a jerk, all the time? 3 stars for the music


  8. This movie was sooo boooring……


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