Sunday, December 22, 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis [2013]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (3 1/2 Stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

I suspect a lot of young musicians / artist-types are going to like Inside Llewyn Davis [2013] (written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen) though "appreciate" might be a better word than "like" as it's hard to "like" a film as sincere but depressing as this one.

The film's about Llewyn Davis (played masterfully by Oscar Isaac) a young folk singer (fictionalized) destined to become an utterly unrecognized/anonymous voice (among oh so so so many others...) of the "great folk music revival" centered in Greenwich Village, Manhattan just, just, just before it came to produce the likes of Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel.  For while those acts became famous across the world, and both arguably changed the direction of world history (think of the world-wide cultural significance of songs like Bob Dylan's "Blowing In the Wind" or Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs Robinson") no one, and I mean no one outside of the Greenwich Village's folk scene of 1961 was going to remember specifically Llewyn Davis singing the no doubt sincere but desperately sad lyrics "Hang o Hang me, I wouldn't mind hanging 'cept for lying in the grave for so long ..." which we watch/hear Davis singing with his acoustic guitar in hand at a random, just bricks and mortar club, modeled after Greenwich Village's legendary Gaslight Cafe in the opening scene of the film.

The obviously moved, and certainly "in the groove," audience dutifully (and no doubt sincerely) applauds him as he finishes his song.  The club owner, smiling, pats Llewyn on the back when he finishes his set and tells him (again with more or less obvious sincerity) that "a friend" of Llewyn's was waiting for him in the alley outside.  Llewyn dutifully steps outside to meet the supposed friend, only to find himself having the daylights kicked out of him for no apparent reason.

The next day, Llewyn wakes up on the couch of a friend/fan of his with a bright colored red-haired cat staring right at him.  (In an otherwise gray film, set amid the slush and snow of winter, this brightly colored red haired cat is more-or-less something of a symbol throughout the film as he/she always seems to appear / disappear and otherwise act utterly unpredictably around him throughout the whole of the story and he can't _ever_ seem to grab and truly hold onto it during the whole course of the film).

We find other things soon enough about Llewyn.  He has a dad, who spent most of his life as a merchant marine, who's now wasting away in an old folks home/sanitarium.  He has a (somewhat) more responsible sister named Joy (played by Jeanine Serrales) with a son (is she unmarried?) who resents his "freedom."  He has an ex-lover named Jean (played magnificently by Carey Mulligan) who's actually the wife of a friend/fellow though sappier (and _happier_) folksinger named Jim (played again magnificently by Justin Timberlake).  Jean's pissed off at Llewyn because he _may_ have gotten her pregnant "though it could have been Jim (her husband) as well" and (PARENTS TAKE NOTE) pressures Llewyn to pay for a (pre-Roe v. Wade) abortion on account of _his_ irresponsibility.  When Llewyn tries to bring up that "You know, 'it takes two to tango'" she wants none of it and tells him that though they may be "destroying a perfectly good baby" (Jim's) she simply didn't want to take the chance that it'd be Llewyn's.  Sigh ... On top of all this, we find that Llewyn is (more or less obviously, he's a super-depressed musician after all ...;-) _always_ broke.

His eternal "broke-ness" (and perhaps broken-ness ...) leads him to take some very strange odd jobs like helping to drive a (it turns out) heroin-addicted Jazz musician (played by John Goodman) and his James Dean look-alike (lover?) valet (played again to the nines by Garrett Hedlund) from New York to Chicago.  Why?  Llewyn doesn't get paid for this "gig" and he even has to split the cost of the gas _anyway_ BUT presumably it's still cheaper than if he had to crash in some dive somewhere back in New York...

By the end of the film, one understands why Llewyn is singing so sincerely the lyrics: "Hang o Hang me, I wouldn't mind hanging 'cept for lying in the grave for so long ..." ... and also why he gets beaten-up right afterwards.  Llewyn, poor, poor Llewyn doesn't seem to stand a chance ... while that stupid bright colored red haired cat seems to come and go, enter into his life and then ... disappear, over and over again ... even as the rest of his life seems like an eternal winter full of slush and snow just waiting to be stepped into.

What an image! ... and I again suspect that a lot of struggling artists / musicians and a lot of struggling people in general could very much relate (an embarrassed/wary/weary :-).  Great film, if super, super depressing ;-)

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