Joel and Ethan Coen always make you think even while entertaining. That is what makes them and their movies so unique and special. So it is with their new movie, “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Written and directed by the Coen brothers, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is set in NYC’s 1961 Greenwich Village folk scene, and follows one tumultuous week in the life of folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac).
Once part of a duo, Llewyn is struggling to make it as a solo act, and to say it’s not easy is putting it mildly. Llewyn is basically homeless, sleeping on couches and floors of friends and acquaintances. His agent, elderly, out-of the-loop, Mel, seems to be doing little on Llewyn’s behalf. On a wing and a prayer, Llewyn heads out to Chicago, catching a ride with poet, Johnny Five (Garret Hedlund), and musician, Roland Turner (John Goodman), hoping to get an audition with Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham). Grossman is a well-known Chicago club owner and manager, and if he takes a shine to Llewyn, his career could take off.
Who knows what will happen to Llewyn, but in watching Oscar Isaac, one knows that with the right material, one is witnessing a star being born. Isaac is perfect as the struggling singer, hit by misfortune upon misfortune. His scenes with his professorial friends, Mitch and Lillian Gorfein (Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett), are funny, frightening and touching. Llewyn can be a real douche at times, but something about Isaac’s acting makes us continue to root for him. And boy, can he ever sing as well as play the guitar. Isaac more than holds his own with the movie’s real musicians and singers…and that includes Justin Timberlake.
Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake play Llewyn’s friends and singing colleagues, Jean and Jim. It’s their apartment where Llewyn crashes the most. Jean has a history with Llewyn and Mulligan is great at portraying Jean’s mixed emotions where he is concerned—frustration and concern for his present and future. Timberlake has less acting to do, but presents a whole different side to his singing and he is just wonderful.
With T-Bone Burnett as the film’s executive music producer and Marcus Mumford as the associate music producer, the music becomes another character in the film. All of the songs are fabulous and will stay with you for a long time.
Joel and Ethan Coen have done an amazing job in re-creating the early 60s. And have they ever provided a cautionary tale for anyone thinking about a career in the performing arts, no matter what the timeframe. Granted, in the 60′s there was no American Idol or YouTube in which to kick-start a career. But for every Kelly Clarkson—talented, but lucky, too—there are hundreds upon hundreds of other struggling artists who don’t get that one lucky break. The Coens show that it takes a lot of fortitude to stick it out as well as a circle of friends on whom to rely along the way. In lesser hands “Inside Llewyn Davis” could be very dark, but the Coens know when to cheer things up…enter the continuing saga of Llewyn and the cat throughout the film. John Goodman also adds just the right light touch in his small scene.
To paraphrase Tina Turner, the Coen Brothers “do everything the hard way.” They enjoy challenging their audience. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is no different. After the final credits roll, it helps to stay in your seat and think about what you’ve just seen…the light bulb will go off…at it will all make sense. And should you or a friend ever think about a life in show business, watch this film again just to be sure.
For more information about the music of “Inside Llewyn Davis,” check out http://www.ordershowtime.com/sho/reality-docs/titles/3400923/inside-inside-llewyn-davis#/index