Inside Llewyn Davis DVD
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Produced in 2013
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - American film
A wonderfully evocative portrait of a struggling folk singer in the early 1960s Greenwich Village scene. It's the most pleasurable Coen Brothers movie for some while, writes Mike McCahill.
Joel and Ethan Coen excel whenever they stop to investigate the perimeters of the worlds they’ve sketched. Blood Simple, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo: all these have their own rules and gatekeepers, their own governing fates, yet too many recent Coen Bros films have seemed inchoate or ill-formed, scattering their better ideas in the dash to the next project.
The good news with Inside Llewyn Davis is that the Coens have locked all these details down: it is at once their most complete picture for some while, and their most unreservedly pleasurable, despite the many miseries loaded onto its mopey protagonist.
The world here is the wintry Greenwich Village of the early 1960s, a pokily boho place of overweight supers manning incredibly narrow corridors; its inhabitants shuffle damp-footed between cave-like venues and mom-and-pop recording enterprises, trailing worn winter coats that can’t really insulate their souls.
One early, whirlwind tour comes care of a fugitive cat; his temporary keeper, the eponymous Llewyn (Oscar Isaac), is a down-on-his-luck folk singer reduced to couch-surfing after his recording partner’s suicide.
Though the Coens take the music seriously – rehiring O Brother, Where Art Thou? cohort T-Bone Burnett to produce another supremely evocative set of original songs – they treat the idea of folk circa 1961 as a joke: the talk is of Elvis, and the Beatles are but a year or so away.
A figure resembling a young Robert Zimmerman pops up in one club scene, but folk as presented here is a marginal concern: that of sad-sacks scraping a modest existence trilling decidedly antiquated laments. (As one gatekeeper observes: 'I don’t see a lot of money here.')
If the subject is rootless drift – and the presence of two cast members of TV’s Girls, the show that has elevated Manhattan drift to an artform, suggests it is – the film is nevertheless anchored by its words and music: it may well become the first Coen movie since Lebowski people bother to quote from, stocked deep as it is with choice phrases and names which have clearly been pored over.
The actors roll this script round their mouths like tobacco, and everybody looks the part: Justin Timberlake is again adroitly deployed as folk’s golden boy, clearly destined for brighter, more corporate things, while an on-the-road diversion, reaching out to Beat culture, finds Llewyn sharing a car with John Goodman, on engaged form as a Tom Parker-like impresario with bowel trouble and an amusing line in industry anecdotes. Yet none of these funny bitparts obscure Isaac’s skilful portrait of fraying desperation, or our sense that Llewyn Davis is getting too old to be touting round a guitar case holding nothing but threadbare dreams.
The younger Coens might have been indifferent to this character’s fate, but there’s a new compassion here that immediately elevates the film above the brothers’ snarkier projects. They’ve realised Llewyn isn’t so far removed from them: a storyteller trying to craft something on the fringes of a particular scene. (There are multiple ways of understanding that title.)
This core warmth prevents the film from drifting unnecessarily: Llewyn might not recognise as much, but his originators dangle the possibility that he could have a career if he only applied himself that bit more, just as they did and have.
In doing so, this wistful, surprising creation myth presents itself as the Coens’ very own Ed Wood: an expression of fraternal sympathy for a figure who’s been out in the cold for too long, to be savoured by anybody who’s ever had to curl up on another’s sofa in pursuit of whatever they want, love and need to do.
Mike McCahill on 23rd April 2014
Author of 289 reviews
Joel and Ethan Coen's award-winning drama Inside Llewyn Davis follows a week in the life of a struggling young singer-songwriter as he tries to make it big in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s.
In the midst of a relentless New York winter, with no job, no money and nowhere to stay, down-on-his-luck musician Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) spends his days flicking through his address book trying to find a bed, or a floor, for the night. If things weren't bad enough, his musical partner has ended it all by jumping off of a bridge, and his lover Jean (Carey Mulligan), who just happens to be the wife of his best friend Jim (Justin Timberlake), has told him that she's pregnant and wants an abortion. In a last ditch bid to shed his hand-to-mouth existence, Davis, with his ever-present pet cat in tow, sets out on a road trip to Chicago in the hope of resurrecting his music career by impressing local promoter Bud Grossman.
Filled with music performed by Isaac, Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan, as well as Marcus Mumford and Punch Brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis is infused with the transportive sound of another time and place.
Publisher: Studio Canal
Length: 105 mins
Format: DVD Colour
Released: 26th May 2014
Cat No: OPTD2542
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
by Mathew Dorrell on 2nd June 2014
Somewhere between my first and fourth coffee, I decided I should probably do some sort of review. It's been a while and I have started to feel as though my meandering ... Read on
Somewhere between my first and fourth coffee, I decided I should probably do some sort of review. It's been a while and I have started to feel as though my meandering has led me into a purgatory-like state of not knowing what to review or when. And then I remembered a great film I have seen a fair few times that doesn't get a lot of publicity. Although, it being a Coen brothers product, it'll get all of the necessary attention it deserves. So I'm going with Inside Llewyn Davis; a film that presents to us a week in the life of a young folk singer in 1961. So if you don't like folk music or the 60s, as well as being perhaps slightly insane, you might not find that this film fits your tastes. Right then!
Now, the film starts in a bit of a peculiar way that is both jarring and completely justified. We see Llewyn performing 'Fare Thee Well' in the Gaslight Cafe (a place known for being a casual spot where Bob Dylan would perform) and then we are transported backwards a week. It's subtle filmmaking that perfectly contextualises the character of Llewyn as his self-destructive, repetitive self. Llewyn is a particularly strange protagonist for a story, mostly because he seems to make the worst of a good situation, but it allows us as viewers to register a different breed of writing and performing. Oscar Isaac performs to a monumental degree, going from scene to scene with his guitar (and for the most part, a cat) and his 'fuck-you' attitude. It's exuberant and charismatic, yet never overstated or sentimental. The film manages to draw the line between make-believe and reality pretty well despite its dreamy cinematography.
There's a fractured element to Llewyn as well, as his former partner in music-making committed suicide. It's clear that throughout most of the film, Llewyn is trying so hard to become a solo act despite being told repeatedly that he should find a partner to sing with. It's quite heartbreaking, but its never over-sympathised. It's all brushed under the rug for the most part, so don't be expecting any cathartic scenes of tears and admission. It is a Coen brothers movie after all, and for those of you who have seen No Country for Old Men and Fargo, you'll understand that they have a very different approach to filmmaking, polarizing to say the least.
Carey Mulligan plays her side-part wonderfully, being the sweet swinging Jean to Justin Timberlake's Jim (fun fact: Jim and Jean were a real-life American folk duo). But off-stage, Jean is spiteful towards Llewyn to say the least - 'Everything you touch turns to shit, you're like King Midas' idiot brother'. The chemistry between these two is a whole different dynamic to how they were in Drive, but their conversations flow wonderfully despite not always serving much of a narrative purpose.
There are some faults with this film for sure, I mean the ending is certainly underwhelming (Not uncommon for the Coen brothers), and some of the plot strands are drawn together rather thinly without much room for explanation, but it's such a wonderfully nostalgic ride that you vie to stay on board. There's a lot of fun to be had, case and point would be watching Justin Timberlake and Oscar Isaac performing 'Please Mr. Kennedy'
The soundtrack provides an entirely new dimension to this movie. In fact, the film relies on it quite heavily. There's some wonderfully performed pieces to be found in this film, even if you aren't a fan of the genre of music you can certainly appreciate the heart and soul that pours into each song. It is the epitome of 60s folk, and it's such a thrill to see where Llewyn's odyssey takes us. Llewyn travels far and wide in search of success, and like so many artforms, it's never easy to make a name for yourself. We see how far he is willing to go for a chance to make it, and then squander opportunities that lay waste to his personal goals. It's odd then, seeing someone hellbent on success given a choice and saying 'nah' because it isn't on their terms. It's also wholly gratifying to be honest, we're given a lead whose strong-headed nature provides moments of gritting your teeth and also questioning if you would make the same choice. More films should do this.
John Goodman's character, Roland Turner, provides a much needed confrontation for Llewyn in the mid-section of the movie. His heroin addicted jazz musician persona doesn't rub off well on Llewyn and the two end up bickering for the duration of Roland's screen time. Roland jokes that folk music is just 'strumming a chord here and there and it doesn't allow for the same level of freeform as jazz' (astutely observed), but while this is true Llewyn doesn't accept it. He's hard-headed, remember? Their scenes are so mismatched and peculiar that it adds a strange tone to the overall piece. Nothing like a dose of reality to take Llewyn's head out of the clouds, though.
There's certainly a lot of emotion to this film, albeit subtle, which is something we have seen a bit of from the Coen brothers recently (A Serious Man, anyone). The performances are all on-point and sure, this film definitely isn't for everyone, but it's certainly one to check out anyway. Maybe you'll find a new love for folk music, or maybe you'll realise you hate it more than you ever thought possible. Either way, Inside Llewyn Davis was one of my favourite films of last year. Understated but powerful. Engaging but not overwhelming. It's exactly what it needs to be.