Follow a week in the life of a young folk singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Guitar in tow, huddled against the unforgiving New York winter, he is struggling to make it as a musician against seemingly insurmountable obstacles -- some of them of his own making. Written by
Oscar Isaac portrays the titular Llewyn Davis in the latest film from Ethan and Joel Coen: surely creating one of celluloid's most memorable losers. This is a joyfully melancholic film, if that makes any sense. Set in 1961 in Greenwich village in New York, Llewyn walks through a series of Dylan album covers, beautifully rendered in washed out colours, trying and heroically failing in just about everything he does. After his singing partner throws himself off the George Washington bridge never a good sign Llewyn tries to strike out with his solo career, hampered by a ginger Tom, a newly pregnant Carey Mulligan and an over-inflated opinion of his own ability. The film charts the fall and continued fall of his travails.
As this is a Coen brother film, will there be larger than life characters involved? You Betcha! In Llewyn Davis there are some fantastic parts: Roland Turner (John Goodman) as an in-turns moribund and then loquacious passenger from hell in a tortuous road trip from New York to Chicago that (brilliantly) fills the middle act of the film; Jean and Jim (Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake) as the folk-singing duo trying to get on with their music careers; and my own favourite Troy Nelson (Stark Sands) as a Forrest Gump-style Army character who is blessed with a great singing voice "What do you do now?" asks Llewyn, after he has noisily woken him up with breakfast cereal eating, "Plug yourself in?".
Carey Mulligan is, as always, absolutely mesmeric in her role as Jean. A study in pent up rage at life. She is dressed down and dowdy in this role, but still shimmers and is incredibly sexy ("Most of the men come here because they want to f*** her" says the nightclub owner. "I did".) A scene in a park where she furiously confronts Llewyn about the baby is just superb "Everything you touch turns to s***" she seethes. "You are like King Midas's idiot brother". And Oscar Isaac is also extremely good in the title role, with his big laconic eyes suiting the role perfectly.
The Coen brothers written script is beautifully done, albeit a bit confusing in places via a flashback. It is a crime that this was not nominated for a screenplay award at the Oscars. In fact, in general, I don't know what the Oscar nomination team were thinking with its general dissing of this film. Just two nominations for sound mixing and cinematography. Shameful.
Given the nature of the story, you might expect that this is not a particularly feel-good film, but it never seems to quite feel as bad as it should be. The comedy is dry and nicely played, with a few laugh out loud moments. And you end up rooting for (albeit, you quickly realise, without hope) for Llewyn, despairing as he makes each devastatingly stupid small decision. (Surely after he records the iconic space epic "Please Mr Kennedy" with Timberlake and comically bass voiced Al Cody (Adam Driver) a hit and fortune must surely be on the cards?).
In summary, if you like folk music and the pre-Dylan roots of 60's folk music I predict you are going to love Inside Llewyn Davis. If you like Coen brothers movies then you'll also love this movie. Put the two together and this would be your 5* film of the year. Personally, I'm in one camp (the latter) but not the other. For me, the (perfectly pleasant) singing sections went on a bit too long. But this was a masterly film, and one that you unpick in your mind long after the lights have come up. For that reason alone it is recommended, provided you have a tolerance for bad language in film (as you might have already guessed from my review).
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