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INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (review)

Review by Caitlyn Thompson
Produced by Scott Rudin & Joel and Ethan Coen
Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, 
Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake, F. Murray Abraham, 
Stark Sands, Jeanine Serralles, Adam Driver , Ethan Phillips,
Alex Karpovsky, Max Casella, Benjamin Pike 
CBS Films / Rated R

The films of the Coen Brothers often feature some kind of anti-hero.  Focusing on a single character’s (or group of characters’) journey that rarely ends positively.

Yet, even though characters can be cruel (No Country For Old Men), honorable (Fargo), ridiculous (Burn After Reading), hopeless (A Serious Man) or tough (True Grit), they evoke a great amount of respect, if not, an odd infatuation.

In Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel and Ethan Coen deliver something new: tenderness. A sensitive look at an insensitive man.

We are given a week in the life of a struggling folk singer, who refuses to compromise his integrity to become a successful artist.

And in a few timeless days the Coen’s illustrate the consequential self-destruction of pride.

Oscar Isaac is phenomenal as the title character. He is handsome mess easy to love and hate, simultaneously seductive and offensive with his big brown eyes and embittered speech. The duality makes the character incredible to watch.

Llewyn Davis is, as Carey Mulligan’s, Jean Berkey, puts it, “an ASS HOLE”.

That unyielding need to become a successful folk singer requires a certain level of arrogance and selfishness. But it comes with the expense of isolation, resentment, and disappointment from family and friends. He strives to live, to succeed, not simply “exist”, as he puts it. Llewyn drifts from couch to couch, living on a few bucks and bummed cigarettes. He faces rejection and sadness, barely surviving. And yet he still strums his guitar, singing with verve and raw emotion, which makes him such a genius and such a fool.

Llewyn really can’t catch a break, or make a friend.

His bitter desperation is at once pathetic and endearing, but his scruffy bohemian demeanor remains sexy, and his voice is undeniably beautiful and full of soul – each time he sang I was completely enthralled. The melancholy of Llewyn’s life is palpable and depressing, depicted beautifully through the Coens’ lens. Alongside the musical brilliance of T-Bone Burnett, Inside Llewyn Davis is a gorgeous picture, saddened by the Coens’ writing and illuminated by the music.

The Coen Brothers often stay camera-close to their characters creating a visceral journey that we enjoy, and/or fear, alongside them. And as we take the journey, hoping for, wishing for the directors to give us a happy ending, the ultimate tragedy is always that much more poignant.

Llewyn really is incredibly talented, but the market just isn’t having it.

He wants to be a great artist – making music about struggling and deep heartfelt emotion. He’s not interested in crowd-pleasing or saccharine. He is profoundly anti-what-the-people-want. Thus, the cookie cutter good boy acts (Justin Timberlake and Stark Sands as Jim Berkey and Troy Nelson, respectively) beat him every time.

Contrasting the good boys, is John Goodman as Roland Turner, a wise-and-full-of-shit jazz musician whose insistent condescending advice and anecdote spewing ceases only when he returns to a drug-induced slumber. Goodman’s presence is claustrophobic and mean, but entertaining. Opposing Goodman’s grotesqueness is Garrett Hedlund who simply skipped over from On the Road. Speaking sparingly, with marbles in his mouth, his presence only exacerbates Llewyn’s hopelessness.

Carey Mulligan as Jean Berkey looks like a pure folk singer, harmonizing with her doofus of a husband and wide-eyed army friend. But beneath the surface lies a different sort of desperation.

Where Llewyn is obnoxious, she is furious, angry at herself, at Llewyn, at her status. She wants the perfect life, to be a singer, to be a suburban wife. But unlike Llewyn, Jean compromises all of her morals for the sake of success. Mulligan’s ability to appear simultaneously pure and self-loathing is incredible.

Beyond being a wonderful character study, the movie features several memorable musical performances and the soundtrack begs to be revisited and enjoyed.

Joel and Ethan Coen again and again create imperfect depictions of people that are accurate, sad, devious and incredibly authentic.

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