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Inside Llewyn Davis Review

By David Kempler

Inside the Head of a Musician

I hate folk music. I have always hated it. When I was in college I hated guys who would take out an acoustic guitar and warble their heartfelt lyrics to beautiful, adoring young ladies who sat on the grass nearby, lost in a dreamlike state. Yeah, I was jealous. So what. John "Bluto" Blutarsky understood. That is why he took a guitar out of the hands of a folk singer and smashed it in "Animal House".

Joel and Ethan Coen's "Inside Llewyn Davis" explores the life of a folk singer in Greenwich Village in 1961. Like all of their films, this one looks great. Somewhat surprisingly, the music is also tremendous. Credit Oscar Isaac for his performance in the title role and the great T-Bone Burnett who served as the Executive Producer. As to the rest of it, it's fair to call it a roller coaster that is at times difficult to decipher.

Like all Coen Brothers films, "Inside Llewyn Davis" is very tough to classify or to compare to something else you have ever seen, except perhaps something else previously made by the brothers. It focuses on a young man in Greenwich Village who is a folk singer/guitarist, who performs in local venues.

He is clearly talented, but is he talented enough to take that next step? If this makes it sound like an everyday let's watch a man in his struggles to make it, it's not. It's more akin to the Coen Brothers "Barton Fink" which explored the hell of being a writer. This time it's the hell of being a musical performer.

Llewyn is also a mess in his private life. He has impregnated Jean (Carey Mulligan), the wife of a friend. She is furious at Llewyn about this. Considering that she is the one that cheated on her spouse, it is a bit difficult to understand Llewyn's conciliatory reaction to the constant stream of vitriol she spits at him, but Llewyn is not your average guy.

When Llewyn hits the road to speak to a big club owner in Chicago, on the way he runs into Roland Turner (John Goodman). A quiet, young James Dean-type is driving a car, with Turner in the back seat. Turner is a bombastic blowhard who dominates the screen for the next twenty minutes, and while Goodman does his usual nice job, his part felt like an insert into the plot. He does not propel the story at all. It's a good performance unto itself and is fun to watch, but it does not feel integral to anything that comes before or after it.

After the road trip, we learn a little bit more about Llewyn and which vector his life will take, and it is this section that works best. This is not to say that anything before it is a failure. It's just that it all becomes more coherent and consistently rewarding as we near the end.

"Inside Llewyn Davis" is one of the most difficult films I have ever had to write about. While watching it, I must have changed my mind four or five times as to whether I hated it, loved it, liked it, or felt nothing at all towards it. What dawned on me afterwards was that it was very difficult to not keep thinking about it. The Coen Brothers have always made somewhat enigmatic movies, and "Inside Llewyn Davis" fits right in with the rest of their catalog. There is no doubt in retrospect that I am very glad that I got a chance to see it. The trip was sometimes bumpy, but in the end it is worth getting inside Llewyn Davis.

What did you think?

Movie title Inside Llewyn Davis
Release year 2013
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary The latest Coen Brothers film is not their best, but it is much closer to it than it is to their worst. Considering that their worst isn't bad at all, you are safe in assuming that it's definitely worth a view.
View all articles by David Kempler
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