Monday, 27 April 2015

Inside Llewyn Davis

A week in the life of an aspiring folk singer in New York City in 1961. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) has little more than the clothes he is wearing and his guitar - that is apart form a talent to write and perform folk songs. But does he have enough talent to make it on his own? Formerly part of a duo who had a recording deal, Llewyn presents a sad and lonely character as he crashes on friends' couches in and around Greenwich Village, Manhattan.

Llewyn is his own worst enemy. He has very little Emotional Intelligence and hasn't worked out that when you are reliant on the charity of others it is best not to upset them - or get them pregnant. Those who were there at the time say that the film doesn't accurately portray the folk scene of the early 1960s. In one respect that is not important as this film doesn't set out to offer an authoritative documentary retelling of how it was. This is an act of fiction and Joel and Ethan Coen  who wrote and directed it have pulled off an engaging and thoughtful exploration of the persistent promise of artistic recognition and a record deal tomorrow.

The film is quirky and apart form his music Llewyn has little to commend him. He is unable to think beyond the here and now and unable to appreciate that his actions might have an impact on the lives of others. He has a strained relationship with his sister and is distant from his father. He seems to only worry about the possibility of pregnancy after it happens. He is seemingly unable to maintain any healthy relationships, relying instead on people taking pity on him. His orbit lies within the liberal intellectual and artistic elite of the academy and 'The Village'.

There are moments of dark and ironic humour in this film as you would expect from the Coen Brothers. However, it is not an uplifting or enlivening story - and certainly not something budding performers would gain encouragement from. Be that as it may, the film sets up a deep and enduring resonance between the subject matter of the carefully crafted folk songs Llewyn sings and the life he finds himself uncontrollably living.

The acting performances are all very natural and credible - with a great show from Carey Mulligan whom I didn't recognise at first. Justin Timberlake is convincing as her husband and John Goodman delivers a tour-de-force as the dark and sinister heroin addicted jazz musician Roland Turner.

This is a film that majors on the existential angst of the title character as it delivers a week in his life that reveals something of the inside of Llewyn Davis. We get very little back story and are left guessing why he has developed into such a hard, unlikeable and embittered character. Perhaps a forensic analysis of his songs would deliver more evidence. This is one for a rainy evening with a bottle of wine. I enjoyed it and will happily award it 8/10.

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