Synopsis: Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is at a crossroads. 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. Living at the mercy of both friends and strangers, scaring up what work he can find, Llewyn’s misadventures take him from the baskethouses of the Village to an empty Chicago club-on an odyssey to audition for a music mogul-and back again.
Release Date: December 6, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Musical
Set in the 1960s Greenwich Village music scene, Inside Llewyn Davis stars Oscar Isaac (Drive, Sucker Punch) as the title character, Llewyn Davis, a folk singer who was once half of a successful duo. Now solo with a debut album that is stalling, Llewyn is forced to surf the couches of his friends, existing on the kindness of others. He wanders the Village, taking advantage of his friends and acquaintances, doing everything he can to jump start his fledgling music career while the world seems to collapse around him.
Inside Llewyn Davis is the newest film from Joel and Ethan Coen, the siblings behind modern classics like No Country for Old Men, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski. The Coen Brothers have a distinct filmmaking style that allows them to cross genres and time periods while still putting an identifiable mark on their movies. Inside Llewyn Davis has the same postmodern eccentricity and dry humor of older Coen films, but leaves out the graphic violence and criminal mischief. Nevertheless, the film feels simultaneously raw and polished, seems both rehearsed and improvised, and is simple in a very complex way. Put bluntly: it’s a Coen Brothers movie, and a very good one.
Although it’s a fictional film, there are familiar characters in Inside Llewyn Davis that are no doubt inspired by real figures from the Greenwich Village folk scene that spawned Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Simon & Garfunkel, and countless others. The movie serves as homage to the musical era in the same way that Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine pays tribute to the British Glam Rock scene of the early seventies; the faces look the same and the music sounds right, but the names are changed to protect the innocent. Llewyn is surrounded by colorful-yet-underdeveloped characters who are portrayed by talented actors like John Goodman (Argo), Justin Timberlake (Friends with Benefits), Carey Mulligan (Drive), Adam Driver (Francis Ha), and Stark Sands (11:14), all of whom authentically play parts that both imitate and parody influential figures of the time.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a remarkable film. There’s only the barest skeleton of a plotline and, with the exception of Llewyn, the characters are all one dimensional. What’s remarkable about it is that, despite the lack of story, it’s wildly entertaining, extremely engrossing, and just plain great. It rings of authenticity; an authenticity of both the looks and feelings of the time period and of the personal struggles of an artist struggling with self doubt and loathing. Anyone who has ever felt unsure of what they are doing with themselves will relate to Llewyn. Anyone who has ever doubted what they have spent their entire life doing will see a little of themselves in the film. Anyone who has ever been so frustrated with life that they want to give up…Inside Llewyn Davis is for them.
Despite the lack of plot, the screenplay for Inside Llewyn Davis is remarkably well-written. It’s wordy and very conversation-heavy but, like Quentin Tarantino and Cormac McCarthy, the Coen Brothers write very engaging dialogue so one forgives the fact that there’s a ton of it. Much of the dialogue is expositional, but it’s also emotional, humorous, insightful, and self-deprecating. There is not much of a plot structure; the script is basically a week in the life of Llewyn, and everything either happens to or because of him. It’s a huge testament to the Coen Brothers that they can make it work, because they do. With its lack of story and lengthy scenes of dialogue, Inside Llewyn Davis shouldn’t be as entertaining as it is…but it is.
As would be expected from a film that’s essentially all about music, the soundtrack for Inside Llewyn Davis is great. Thanks to the music direction by producer-extraordinaire T-Bone Burnett (who worked with the Coens on O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and Marcus Mumford (lead singer of the Grammy Award winning Mumford, the song selections in the film are authentic to the era and style. The surprising part is that much of the music was performed by the actors in their roles. It’s no shock that Justin Timberlake can deliver the goods, and Oscar Isaac has an unsurprising set of pipes himself. However, the other cast members get to strut their stuff as well. Stark Sands shows off his pure and honest voice, while Adam Driver comes through with some comedic baritone parts. Even the multi-talented Carey Mulligan flexes her vocal muscles on a Peter, Paul, and Mary-esque tune with Sands and Timberlake. The live vocal feel of the soundtrack gives the film and its music a sense of realism that couldn’t be achieved from straight lip-syncing, and it really shows off the talent of the versatile cast.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Ethan Coen
- Screenwriter(s): Joel CoenEthan Coen
- Cast: Oscar Isaac (Llewyn Davis)Carey Mulligan (Jean)Justin Timberlake (Jim) Ethan Phillips (Mitch Gorfein)Robin Bartlett (Lillian Gorfein)John Goodman (Roland Turner)Garrett Hedlund (Johnny Five)
- Editor(s): Ethan Coen
- Cinematographer: Bruno Delbonnel
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA