Although I’m no big fan of the Coen brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis had sounded different. I liked the idea of getting inside someone, a no-brainer given my choice of career.
I also liked (the idea of): Folk singing. The period: 1961. The setting: New York City. The reviews: largely fantastic. An appealing trailer featuring a hand-held mobile cat:
I was disappointed. Unfortunately, as Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, notes, “…(T)he title is ironic: these moody opaque songs don’t get us anywhere close to being ‘inside’ the singer’s mind.”
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE FILM
Jonathan Kim, The Huffington Post:
The film follows Llewyn, who isn’t terribly nice or responsible, as he wanders New York scrounging for couches to sleep on from his increasingly annoyed sister (played by Jeanine Serralles), an uptown intellectual couple (played by Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett) whose cat Llewyn loses, and from his folk singer friend Jim (played by Justin Timberlake) whose irate girlfriend and bandmate Jean (played by Carey Mulligan) Llewyn has impregnated. There’s also an attempt by Llewyn to rejoin the merchant marines to make some money, as well as a spur of the moment road trip to Chicago with an ornery jazzman (played by John Goodman) and his assistant (played by Garrett Hedlund) to take one last stab at getting signed to a label.
Another element of the story involves our eventual knowledge of a tragic loss—of the singing partner with whom Davis had once recorded at least one album.
THE CHARACTER-DRIVEN STORY
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, about Llewyn Davis: “…a quietly angry, depressed and penniless young man, dragging his guitar from apartment to apartment, sleeping on couches, annoying everyone, unsure whether to continue in a world that does not understand him, and preparing to abandon his dream and returning to work in the merchant marine. There comes a time with any artist, when failure has become too painful and losses have to be cut. Has that time come for Llewyn Davis?”
A CRITIC’S CONCLUSION THAT REFLECTS MY OWN
Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “…enjoyable and yet puzzling and hard to embrace fully. ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ goes back to a very specific cultural moment but shows no real interest in the way people really thought, talked or acted then. It visually re-creates the folk era but has nothing to say about it in particular. The Coens, with this film, are like people who fly all the way to Paris on vacation and then eat at McDonald’s every night, because that’s what they know. Why bother making the trip at all?”
BONUS: BORDERLINE SPOILER MATERIAL
Dana Stevens, Slate:
Ethan and Joel Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis is structured around a temporal riddle that’s also a mordant existential joke. The film…begins and ends with slightly differing versions of the same event…
The repetition of this scene—with a few crucial additions the second time around—lends the movie that comes in between an unsettling Möbius-strip quality. Is the first scene a flash-forward, or the last scene a flashback? Of these two versions of Llewyn’s set at the Gaslight and its unpleasant aftermath, which, if either, actually took place? (Or are we simply witnessing the same event from two different points of view? If so, whose points of view are they?) And if both versions of the evening at the Gaslight are somehow ‘real,’ are we to conclude that Llewyn is stuck in a nightmare version of Nietzsche’s eternal return, doomed to live the same crappy, broke, cold week over and over for the rest of his life?