Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Great music, atmosphere, problematic character in "Llewyn Davis'

The new film, from Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis, may not quite be what viewers expect. After the Coens celebrated the rural, regional folk music of the American South of the 1930s in O Brother, Where Art Thou, a few years back, fans may expect more of the same from the new film, with a more urban vibe.

But while Llewyn Davis is set in the Greenwich Village folk scene ca. 1961, and positively teems with yearning, vintage-sounding music that might very plausibly have come from that era, it mines a much darker vein of experience as a down-on-his-luck, would-be folk singer struggles against all odds to get a foothold in the music business.

In fact, the new film has more in common with the Coen's A Serious Man, an ironic update of the Biblical story of Job, in which a hapless suburban Everyman had to cope with one damn thing after another thrown into his path by an unforgiving universe. The protagonist in Llewyn Davis also endures trials, but they mostly stem from his own bad judgment and bristly personality.

The problem is,the character as written is all angsty exterior. Oscar Isaac, an appealing actor who has been wonderful in supporting roles for years, manages to bring moments of poignancy, even fleeting tenderness, to the title character. He even turns out to be a terrific singer.

But we never do get inside Llewyn Davis; the journey he takes in the course of the film, both physically and emotionally, lands him back in exactly the same place.

But where the movie comes alive is in the music, and the spot-on depiction of the era. (The legendary T Bone Burnett, along with Marcus Mumford, produced the music.) Isaac sings Llewyn's gritty solos with plenty of verve.

And the novelty song, "Please Mr. Kennedy (Don't Send Me Into Space)," that he sings with Justin Timberlake, with the very funny Adam Driver providing bass and counterpoint (above), is exactly true to the era, and hilarious too. (Read more)

Btw, much is made in the movie of Llewyn hauling a friend's runaway orange cat all over New York City until he has time to return it to its owner. I can't imagine what they gave that cat to mellow him out.

I'm sorry, but if I tried to take one of my cats on a noisy subway at rush hour, my back would be shredded like the Watergate transcripts.

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