"Inside Llewyn Davis" is a Coen Classic
Joel and Ethan Coen have created some of the greatest American films of this or any generation. They have mastered the story of inconsequential and even plain people in what can only be seen as incredible and awful situations. "Inside Llewyn Davis" is no exception as it takes the New York folk scene of 1961 and makes the problems of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) seem like a fascinating journey of self-doubt and musical value. At no point are the characters presented as the kind of characters who would carry a gun, rob a bank, or steal government documents. They are real people in real situations and it is a fad I personally wish the Coen brothers would get out of.
These aren't the average Coen crucibles either, they are not ordinary people in extraordinary situations. The problems faced by the characters, poverty, unwanted pregnancy, lost cats, and never being able to close a solid gig or make it in the industry, are very real problems. The characters don't crave our attention, in fact Llewyn is as misanthropic and smug a character as any before him and he continues the recent trend of Coen films with characters who are either too real or whose problems are irreconcilable and thus, uninteresting.
It's not that this movie is bad because the situations that Llewyn finds himself in continue to escalate. In fact, like most Coen classics, that trendy rise to anti-climax is what most pay for. The artistic licensing on the human experience is always fun to watch. On the other hand, there's the recent progression into the bleak and glib stories that are as fascinating as they are frustrating to watch. "Inside Llewyn Davis" makes it into this category.
It can be stressed that had it not been for the cat, the movie's story may not have worked at all. The connecting piece between all the sub-plots (if you can call them that) is the silly, orange cat that escapes from the apartment Llewyn crashes at in the beginning of the film. The antics and misunderstandings that occur throughout the rest of the film, which include some of the most uncomfortable conversations I have ever seen in a Coen Brothers flick, can be traced back to that stupid cat escaping the apartment.
The club scenes are tremendous with Max Casella, an unsung, background character actor pulling off the club owner shtick wonderfully. The Gaslight Cafe is a shadowy, smoky, poorly lit, folk music cafe that Llewyn performs at multiple times throughout the film. Thank the stars for that. The music is just to die for. With T Bone Burnett as executive music producer, (know for his most recent success in the "Crazy Heart" soundtrack, 2009) there was a lot of impact in the music. The Coens focus on story and characters first and foremost, but their ear and concern for music is not to be dismissed. The Coens had worked with T-Bone Burnett before with "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack and it shows that their creative talents for Americana storytelling meshed well. They have certainly replicated the magic of that 2000 film, if not topped it.
The Coens don't shy away from their successful characters who have been morally compromised by self-inflicted situations. This film is filled with them. Carey Mulligan's Jean is quick to blame her pregnancy, infidelity and mostly anything else on Llewyn, despite Llewyn's comment "it takes two to tango." The Gorfeins are the most awkward characters in the film. Educated, upper-class characters on the Upper East Side and charitable to a fault, they are the parents of Llewyn's now dead musical partner Mike. Clearly the source of much of Llewyn's hapless outlook, this death has transformed him into an irresponsible man who is caught in a corner of trying to make ends meet.
It is no mistake that this movie was not released at mass in theaters across the country. A limited release makes sense, even with directors and writers as successful and talented as the Coens. CBS Films and StudioCanal probably took what Joel Coen said seriously when he interviewed with Deadline.com. "the film doesn't really have a plot. That concerned us at one point; that's why we threw the cat in." The film has plot, don't worry about that, but it is not much of one. This is a glimpse of a man's life, a single snap-shot of a few days of his miserable existence and as such it does not make good viewing for most mainstream audiences. But if you are looking for some high quality cinematography, directing, outstanding dialogue and incredible acting and singing performances -- this movie is the movie for you. While only at Avon until the 29th, "Inside Llewyn Davis" might be one of the Coen's most erratic and enigmatic films they have ever made. If for no other reason than that, it is worth checking out.