Do I love folk music now?
I don’t think I can take it quite that far, but the Coen brothers sure hit the mark once again with this one back in 2013. I mean, what is the last film you saw (that wasn’t a biopic about Johnny Cash or Ray Charles), that had the integration of music in the film as such an essential ingredient and pulled it off with such brilliance? If you haven’t yet seen the film, spoiler: the music is unbelievable.
Also notable is the outstanding performance by Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis. He is consistent and engrossing as the title character, a depressed, grieving folk singer. How this guy missed being nominated for an Academy Award for this film and Sandra Bullock freakin’ won hers for The Blind Side is something I will never understand. He’ll get his eventually, but his performance goes down as one of my favourites in a Coen brothers film and that says something considering the options: Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski), Clooney (O Brother Where Art Thou?), Frances McDormand (Fargo), Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men), I mean the list goes on and on with some good company.
Becoming a solo act after losing his singing partner presents Llewyn with quite a few challenges that he doesn’t exactly take in stride. He is bitter towards his friends, his family, and his aging (and hilarious) agent. His only audience members and fans are the people he has the hardest time connecting with, people who see him as a novelty, their “folk singer friend”. The one person other than himself who he even cares about is Jean, his ex who has sort of her own love/hate thing going on for Llewyn as she silently cares for him but treats him as if he is the bane of her existence when he’s in her presence. The dynamic between them is electric, regardless of the tension, awkwardness, and multiple slurs thrown Llewyn’s way. Carey Mulligan is superb in the role and does some great singing herself.
Despite how this world might be coming across, the film still succeeds in being very touching. Even if our protagonist misses the point, we can see his faults, his mistakes and his stubbornness. We cheer for him, but even if he doesn’t quite get it in the end, we’re left with a feeling that there’s some hope (or at least I was).
What really grabs you about Inside Llewyn Davis though, is the atmosphere. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography is superb. Whether Llewyn is in the dimly lit and smoky music hall, getting his ass kicked in a back alley, or in the narrow hallways of somebody else’s apartment building, the photography draws you in and makes you feel the monotony of Llewyn’s existence as if you’re experiencing it with him. His depression can be felt through the absence of bright colours and the various shades of grey that coat each scene with a melancholic haze.
With great cameo appearances by the likes of John Goodman (naturally, it is a Coen brothers film after all), Justin Timberlake, and Garret Hedlund, the Coen brothers quietly created a masterpiece right under our noses. Sure, it’s a shame that it wasn’t recognized more obviously by those Academy snobs, but hey, Criterion added it to their list, so that’s something.
So if you have yet to see Inside Llewyn Davis you would be doing yourself a big favour in doing so at your earliest convenience. You will be entertained by great performances, wonderful direction and cinematography, and a truly original film that should resonate with you for a long time. If not for the music, or the dark comedy, or the great performances, then do it for the cat, man. Do it for the cat.
With that I say (at the risk of creeping out those who have not seen the film), “Fare thee well, my honey, fare thee well.”
I Wish I was Him/Her…I think
You’ve Touched Me in a Good Way