Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review of Inside Llewyn Davis: Behind Unknown Music

For every Bob Dylan or Kingston Trio, there was a thousand Llewyn Davises who filled stages at coffee shops in 1961. Maybe they make an album, but not much more than that.

Joel and Ethan Coen, who have made movies that ranged from a kidnapping gone wrong to a screwball comedy, a western to film noir, turn their attention to a musician who struggles to fins a place to sleep, much less his next gig. Inside Llewyn Davis shows that this man's career is affected by bad luck, and maybe himself.

When we first see him, he gets clobbered by someone outside the Gaslight Cafe in New York for some reason. He crashes at a friend's house, then accidentally lets the friend's cat escape. He has to carry the cat everywhere, while he deals with an indifferent record executive, talking to his sister, and then to the flat of Jean (Carey Mulligan), an ex-girlfriend who says she's pregnant--and she's not even sure is Llewyn is the father. Seeing them talk about her dilemma shows that he sees himself as an artist who wants to be above money and career. That is, until he agrees to be a backup musician for a song written by Jim (Justin Timberlake), called "Please Mr. Kennedy".

We later find out Davis used to be part of a duo, but his partner committed suicide. They were known for a song called "If I Had Wings", which has been featured in the trailer.

Davis soon hitches a ride to Chicago, hoping to talk to a club owner about a gig there. It's a tough drive that includes Roland Turner (John Goodman), a boozy jazz singer, and his driver, Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund).

What's interesting about Davis is that he's a good enough singer/songwriter, but he is sometimes plagued with the weirdest bad luck. Aside from losing the friend's cat, he almost gets in another accident trying to avoid hitting another car. When he tries to get a job with the Merchant Marine, his licenses get thrown away by accident. This isn't about an unknown singer who finds stardom. It's about an unknown singer who stays that way, because that happens most often.

Isacc is great as Davis, and his performances of folk songs are also very good. While the audience at the screening I attended at the Century Stadium 14 did laugh during some parts of this movie, it's more of a character study of one of the countless folk singers who weren't heard as much as he had hoped.

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