Joel and Ethan Coen’s "Inside Llewyn Davis", now playing in San Francisco, garnished the most points from selected journalists in the Screen Cannes Dailies, the market journal that is most relied on at Cannes for film ratings where it was nominated for the Palme d'Or in May. However, with their latest creation, the directors offer one of their least ambitious projects with the least to say, so it is unsettling that the film became so popular even with the jury where it won the grand jury prize.
The film is handsomely crafted about a New York folk singer in the 1960's but lacks a compelling dramatic sensibility and historical accuracy. Of the Cannes selection, high quality is important and all the more when it is attached to famous auteur such as the Coen brothers. But even the best directors have an off year and this is the case for "Inside Llewyn Davis" One reason could be the short scenes with punchy dialogue, delivered by excellent actors Oscar Issac (Llewyn Davis) and Carey Mulligan (Jean Berkey). Not only is there no telling continuity, the substance of the dialogue in these scenes is empty, focusing on what a horrible man Llewyn is for getting Jean pregnant, and how there is no money in his music. Moreover there is also no sense of the political aspect of folk singing fighting social injustice and fomenting political change as exemplified by artists such as Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Peter Paul and Mary. Llewyn Davis' issues as a folk singer are non existent.
Other largely pointless scenes have to do with a cat that escapes from one of the sofas he crashes on as an unemployed musician. Llewyn finds his life as a folk singer unrewarding and yearns to escape to the Merchants Marine and pack it in. In the end, the emergence of Bob Dylan as a young folk singer with a ratchety voice and profound lyrics eclipses his own career.
Probably the most conspicuous red thread throughout the film is the cat which Llewyn looks after for the only friends he seems to have in New York. The cat winds up following him on his escapades and is later abandoned on the roadside with Roland Turner (John Goodman). It feels like at this point the script gets abandoned too.
To the film's credit is the brilliant acting by Oscar Lewis who along with the cat does his best to hold the film together. Less dazzling are Carey Mulligan (Jean) and Justin Timberlake (Jim), as the "Jean and Jim" duo and the occasional Llewyn filling in for an "Peter Paul and Mary" sound. Even as a music film "Inside Llewyn Lewis" feels like it rubs cat hair in the wrong direction.