The most recent film from the Coen brothers since their tobacco chewing, gunslinging gem True Grit is an eery folk backed, hipster, road trip odyssey that left me with one overriding emotion. Anger. While yes it’s beautiful to look at, every other shot worthy of an indie album cover, and to listen to, for more or less the same reason, the film really got on my tits due to a number of things, common in much of the C-bros recent output, which had me disoriented by the half way point and fuming when it abruptly cut to black.
Inside Llewyn Davis: A Folky Misfire
The story, set in the supremely bleak 1960’s Greenwich Village, New York, a mix between Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and Northern Siberia, follows the folky shenanigans of Davis himself, a talented yet troubled musician, (big emphasis on the second one) and his aimless wanderings from Gaslight gig to strangers sofa with all the urgency and direction of a stoned koala. He is a tragic character, played well by the multi-talented Oscar Isaac, with his knack for self-sabotage, far outstripping his singing and beard pruning abilities, demonstrated on an almost minute by minute basis. From losing cats to ruining dinner parties to fathering scores of illegitimate bastard children he seems almost unerringly compelled, as Carrey Mulligan’s incensed baby momma put it, to “fuck everything up”.
“Bowl cut” was not an insult he took lightly
The cyclical narrative structure mirrors the life of it’s central protagonist reinforcing further the sense that his personal failure is self-inflicted as it becomes rapidly apparent that Llewyn alone is responsible for his career inertia as he rejects opportunity after opportunity under the guise of “artistic integrity”. But it doesn’t half make the film dull, unrelentingly downbeat and feel wholly pointless as a result.
For the most part the movie sticks to a single pace, dragging more than a dachshunds manhood, with a collection of characters that stay almost uniformly bitter and depressing throughout, with the exception of the kindly Gorfein’s determinedly taking Davis in after his frequent wild nights on the town. The total lack of character development wouldn’t be so bad however if Llewyn and much of the supporting cast, while well written, were less unpleasant. I mean, you know there’s a problem when your far and away most likable and engaging protagonist is a fucking cat/furry metaphor for Davis’ guilt and regret.
Matching jumpers, the key to one directions comeback tour success
“Inside Llewyn Davis” does have a number of good points however, primarily in the form of the superb, ear-drum massaging sound track curated and produced by the brilliant (and hilariously named) T Bone Burnett. The overall look of the film is stunning as well, each frame filled with a sense of melancholic nostalgia, as it more than earns its Best Cinematography Oscar nod. While it may be more straightforward in terms of narrative than previous works the Brothers retain their unique, signature style whether it’s the visual comedy, the odd line of hilarious dialogue – “Where’s it’s scrotum, Llewyn?!” being a particular fave, or random object POV shots.
I guess my own sense of anger isn’t a result of watching Llewyn squander his potential and talent, the movies central theme, but ironically at witnessing the Coens waste theirs. The pair have been more hit and miss over the last few years than the North Korean nuclear program and their brief flashes of genius make it all the more frustrating to watch. While aesthetically please – like a celery eating contest on a rainy tuesday “Inside Llewyn Davis” left me feeling cold, empty and wishing I’d made better use of the previous few hours.