A Misanthrope’s Guide to the Movies: Inside Llewyn Davis

Although its official nation-wide release date isn’t until December, Inside Llewyn Davis played a one-night engagement at Providence Place Cinema last night for Brown students, courtesy of the Ivy Film Festival. While probably not destined for the same fame as Fargo or The Big LebowskiLlewyn Davis came equipped with the slow pace, minimal overt plot and dry, humorous dialogue audiences have come to expect from Joel and Ethan.

Inside Llewyn Davis takes its viewers through something like 72 hours in the life of struggling singer-songwriter Llewyn Davis. We meet Llewyn as he is essentially homeless having recently lost his singing partner, impregnated his friend’s wife, and stolen another friend’s cat. But the film is not about redeeming this otherwise anti-hero—it simply provides a window into his downward spiral. The movie literally ends with Llewyn face-up in an alley (calm down, that ruins absolutely nothing), and the reminder that for every Bob Dylan success story, there are hundreds just like Llewyn: broke and alone. And does this mean they should abandon their art for less inspiring, more lucrative careers? Is music a career or party trick? I don’t know. The movie leaves far more questions than answers. But the biggest question I asked myself as the film ended was why? Why did I just spend 105 minutes with this character?

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the film. I laughed out loud several times and found the supporting cast endlessly amusing; especially John Goodman, a Coen brothers staple at this point. The most confusing guest appearances, however, had to be from Adam Driver and Alex Karpovsy of Girls fame. Neither actor had more than five lines, yet their mere presence was enough to jolt me out of Llewyn’s world for a few seconds. Both actors did well with their roles and had clearly earned the parts, but it is nonetheless amusing to think of Joel and Ethan Coen watching Girls and calling up some agent somewhere to demand Driver for their next serious drama flick. Or maybe they saw his Gap ads and were sold on his spirit.

And yet the audience only gets a sum total of around ten minutes with any character who isn’t Llewyn. It is clearly his story, but what is less clear is why it matters. Sure his story is representative of a larger story of the struggling American artist who fascinates us all at a voyeuristic distance. But such a stock character makes this distance near impossible to shrink. The circular nature of the film indicates a certain trapped desperation of Llewyn’s life, but if he is unable or unwilling to change, what can be done?

The breakaway star of this film had to have been actor Oscar Isaac’s voice. When a song gets played as many times in one film as the Coen brothers used Isaac’s cover of “Fare Thee Well” (you’ve heard it if you’ve seen the movie’s trailer), it had better be good. Luckily, “Fare Thee Well” was catchy enough that I made my roommate listen to it several times on YouTube later in the evening.

So even though you’ll have to wait until December, I do recommend seeing Inside Llewyn Davis if you have not already. If you enjoy dry humor, you’re guaranteed to enjoy yourself and maybe you’ll even be able to figure out exactly what that cat is supposed to symbolize (my theory is Llewyn’s sympathy/humanity in the eyes of the audience, but if you have something better, please let me know). And in case you’ve made it through this entire review and have no idea what movie I’m talking about, check out the trailer above, and then start keeping up with pop culture.

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1 Comment

  1. A

    Loved the movie, and loved the soundtrack!

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