Having been off the radar since their reimagining of classic western True Grit, Joel and Ethan Coen return once more to their forte; writing and directing offbeat, deadpan and slick drama, this time with a tale of a folk singer wandering round New York in the early 60’s. The story focuses on a week in the life of Llewyn Davis, a singer meandering through life and trying to get by in the Greenwich Village folk scene, before the likes of Bob Dylan arrived and changed the face of that era.
On the surface its a completely one dimensional movie. Not a lot happens; characters meet, interact, and then just as quickly disappear from the narrative, but dig deeper and the layers start to peel back. Llewyn Davis seems deliberately unlikeable, and a series of “bad” decisions leave you with the sense that events can and will spiral beyond his control, and you find yourself caught up in the music and the growing list of darkly comic misfortunes that befall the lead.
Much like the cat that he shepherds around New York City, Llewyn is notoriously independent. Haunted by the recent suicide of his singing partner but confident of his talent, he wants to establish himself as a solo act, and whether he’s trying to or not, he alienates virtually everyone he comes into contact with. The film is dotted with wonderful characters too that at first glance seem like clichés of that age, but have more of a bearing on the journey as a whole.
With it’s middle act another homage to Homer’s Odyssey and period specific soundtrack, comparisons will be drawn to cult favourite O Brother Where Art Thou, but Inside Llewyn Davis deserves to be judged on its own merits. The music, sung largely by the cast onscreen, becomes lodged inside your head and the lyrics continue to inform and colour the movie as Davis’ journey plays out.
The Coens steer away from any kind of sentimentality, so any time serious discussion of concepts like success or failure – either commercially or artistically – come up, they are torpedoed like some kind of sick joke. Inside Llewyn Davis carries itself with a poignancy rarely seen onscreen, and with it’s gorgeous, gloomy cinematography and infectious soundtrack, it’s destined itself to become another of the brother’s fan favourites.
(Images courtesy IMDb, Collider, Empire)