Review: Inside Llewyn Davis
Across a week in 1961, a struggling Greenwich Village folk singer deals with friends, strangers, lovers, enemies, agents, and one very troublesome cat. As he questions his life path, and whether or not to give up music, nothing ever comes easy in the comically tragic tale.
Oscar Isaac catapults to stardom as the titular singer, immensely talented and winning. Carey Mulligan is a friend and former lover, while Justin Timberlake is her current beau and fellow folk singer. John Goodman and Garrett Hedlund show up as a couple of traveling musicians, while Adam Driver is especially hilarious as another figure in this musical world.
Llewyn Davis’ life is unenviable, and however much of an intolerable, impatient, and inconsiderate rube he can be, he is a most sympathetic character and a marvel to watch. It’s his life, or what accounts for a life as folk singer, that we follow intimately, patiently across a week in 1961 Greenwich Village.
Davis’ thorny, dismissive exterior has been shaped by venturing into a living where there is little reward. Playing the same nightclub over and over, sleeping on couches of friends and strangers, and refusing to pander or alter his art, Davis meanders alone through New York City having once seemingly found success: as part of a duo, as part of a relationship, and as a friend.
His partner is gone, however. His ex-girlfriend has moved on to another man, and his agent is forgetful at best – and he’s nowhere close to his best.
So Davis’ life is tragic, yet so beautifully realized and relayed by the ever-disciplined, brilliant brothers Coen. This sublime, focused character study is utterly captivating from the opening scene, and gut-wrenching from the next moment onward. It is melancholic when not hysterical, as Davis’s life plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy with comedic punches.
The title of the film is also the title of Lewis’ solo album, but it’s also more or less the setting for the journey. It’s one without necessarily a beginning or end, and all the people met along the way are transient and fleeting, important but interchangeable (even the felines, it would seem).
A folk singer that Davis meets during a gig is no different than a long time affluent friend and fan– he sleeps on both their couches. The fight with his ex-girlfriend and one with a supporter’s wife are vitriolic and startling, yet rise and fall so naturally.
It’s a fluid, lyrical, deftly-crafted portrait, and that’s not just because an enchanting, poignant soundtrack is allowed to play nearly in full. A haunting first number gives ways to charming trios, a cheeky lilt, and plenty of heartfelt, beautifully-sung tunes.
Isaac is an immense talent and triumphs at leading a film that finds noteworthy performances in small roles from Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, and Adam Driver, among others. They portray just some of the curious characters that float in and out of Davis’ seemingly timeless world.
Inside Llewyn Davis is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year, a paragon of storytelling with pitch-perfect music and savvy execution. And then of course there is that damn cat…
Should You See It?
Go see it and then nab the soundtrack, because you won’t be able to forget the songs, and you won’t want to. And then go see the movie again.