Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
If ever in your life you decide to do something as foolish and irresponsible as write fiction, don’t attend seminars and don’t take up courses in creative writing. Instead, invest some of your time in the Coen brothers’ films. Fargo. Miller’s Crossing. Barton Fink. The Man Who Wasn’t There. Even lesser stuff like The Hudsucker Proxy could prove extremely useful. Because much of what you need to know about the story and crisp, clear-cut symbolism will be there on screen, coupled with fantastic acting, cinematography and all other joys that only films can bring.
Inside Llewyn Davis is pure aural and visual bliss. It is roughly based on the life of a relatively unknown 60’s folk artist, Dave Van Ronk, and tells about a week in the life of a one-time Greenwich Village folk singer who wanted to make it big but never had the guts or charisma to do so. In a way, he never even tried.
Dave Van Ronk was a fitting prototype for the idea. I’m familiar with the guy’s recordings, and it’s decent folk music with good spirit and little imagination. Basically, it lacks that vital reinvention that Dylan underwent between 1962 and 1963. The Coens use some of the stuff he did (“Green, Green Rocky Road”), a Peter, Paul and Mary classic (“Five Hundred Miles”, written by Hedy West) and even one brilliant original (Justin Timberlake, of all people, co-wrote the catchy folk-pop gem “Please, Mr. Kennedy”). Particularly good are two traditional songs, “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” and “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)”, which you get to hear a couple of times throughout the film. In other words, the soundtrack to Inside Llewyn Davis is indispensable. Just imagine a 60’s take on O Brother, Where Art Thou?, with T-Bone Burnett back to what he does so well.
Speaking of style, it’s the Coens of A Serious Man sort. The gorgeous, autumnal colours, an unlikely hero under pressure, lots of despair and dry wit. There’s not much violence (the little we see is hilarious), just the story and the beautiful, depressing world of the famed folk scene of 60’s New York. The acting is superb, but then you never see under-par acting in a Coens film. Oscar Isaac is tortured and stubborn and just a little bit annoying. Justin Timberlake is all understated charm; soft voice and humble sweaters. Carey Mulligan is at her cynical, down-to-earth best. I also love Jeanine Serralles who plays Llewyn’s sister: she is angry and loving and absolutely adorable. And please note that the actors are the ones who actually perform these songs. And live, too. Classic Coens.
The story is of course intricate and clever, and you just have to love the cute ginger cat whose name is Ulysses. It’s a brilliant journey indeed, though God knows it isn’t too much fun getting inside Llewyn Davis. After all, some talent just breeds frustration.