As you have read in my 3-part Commentary when I started this blog, I have overall become a fan of small budget and Independent cinema. It has most assuredly opened my eyes to amazing films that bring out a much more human approach to the stories they tell, give actors that chance to REALLY show their chops, and provide a getaway from the sometimes “I need a break from effects and explosions” attitude we can get from all the “event” films coming out, even when they are also edgy and darker in tone. That said, Independent films can ALSO be potentially tedious, uncomfortably bizarre, or just too depressing to enjoy, and in the case of Joel and Ethan Coen‘s (“O Brother, Where Art Thou“, “The Big Lebowski“, “True Grit“) newest directorial effort “Inside Llewyn Davis”, THAT is, sadly, more the case.
The film starts us out looking in on 1961 Greenwich Village, New York, and a small back alley music hall where our central character, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), is crooning away to a hushed audience of folk/traditional music fans. After his set is through, Davis is advised by the hall’s manager that someone is looking for him in the alley behind the venue. Davis heads here, only to be confronted by an unidentified man to beats him up while chastising Davis for heckling a previous act that we didn’t see. And this encounter ends up serving as our initiation into what a crap life Davis is residing in. We find he used to be a part of a music duo that fell apart, we ultimately find out, due to a tragedy. He wakes up in someone’s apartment after the alley incident and on the way out, accidentally let’s the resident cat out, which he has no luck pawning off to someone else to watch until his friends and owners come home. So now he’s toting his guitar, bag, AND a cat around with him (and the whole cat thing lasts in bits and pieces throughout the film…not totally sure exactly WHY). He next tries to grab couch rights to sleep on in the apartment of a VERY bitter ex-girlfriend Jean (Carey Mulligan) whose husband Jim (Justin Timberlake) Llewyn eventually tries to borrow money from. And of course, we find out Davis had a one night stand with Jean as well, and she is pregnant, but not sure if from him or Jim. In fact, it seems Llewyn has had a LOT of dalliances with women over time, a point that Jean is more than happy to rip him up and down about along with his other life failings. Davis also has no luck with his former music manager, landing any more gigs, or finding ANYTHING to call his own as he continues to try and maneuver his way through the folk music scene in the Village. Even his relationship with his sister is not smooth, as her and everyone else keep pointing out his faults.
He initially gets a one song demo gig with Jim and his pal Al Cody (Adam Driver), but even that only pays so much and Llewyn once again finds himself on the road, this time to Chicago as a last ditch effort to find SOME semblance of a life that he can make through folk music. He catches a ride with various people via hitchhiking and this brings him into contact with a man simply named Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) and the man he is actually driving around, a cynical, perpetually sick jazz musician Roland Turner (John Goodman) who is someone else that does absolutely NOTHING to improve Llewyn’s perspectives on what he wants to accomplish. That car ride ends badly, and by the time Llewyn actually MAKES it to Gate of Horn music hall in Chi town and is asked to play a song from his one album to its owner he was advised to seek out, Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham), Llewyn still ends up with nothing coming of it, and so begins his journey BACK to New York and all the people who so graciously “support” him. In truth, it seemed the only figures in his life that genuinely seemed to do that are Mitch & Lillian Gorfein (Ethan Phillips & Robin Bartlett), who were lifelong friends of Davis’ family. At this juncture, Llewyn is SO bitter and disillusioned at trying to make it in folk music, he has a small meltdown while watching another performance at the club in New York. At first, we think he is trying to make amends for his actions and misdeeds to those whom his negativity has effected, but it all falls apart still. And where does everything end in this mess…..back at the initial scenes in the music hall with Davis’ performance we saw at the start, it ending, and the confrontation in the alleyway. The only real differences….we learn WHY the man was waiting for him in the alley, AND also that another performer took the stage after Davis…..and an all too familiar voice starts singing and playing as Davis exits the hall. Just think of the era and location this takes place in, and you will probably figure out who it was.
So…are you completely confused and frustrated now trying to find ANY sense of hope or logic in this whole thing? Well…I am right there with you. Honestly, this was a very depressing film, and while I will find a way here to give props to the Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and John Goodman in particular, and even admit there were some points of humor found, I just cannot say I would recommend this to anyone. Then again, being that it IS the Coen Brothers who wrote, produced, and directed this, it should not be TOO surprising the film has the tone it does, as they do excel even in the comedies they’ve done, at being odd, eccentric, just plain weird, as well as dark and moody. Although, the Coen’s DID bring us “Raising Arizona“, “No Country For Old Men”, and “True Grit”, it doesn’t assist me in liking this movie. The ONE positive I COULD take away from the film….there was some great Folk music performed in the movie. Still, this film left me feeling so down after watching it I wanted to come home and watch nothing but Disney films for a few days. BUT, as always, this is all for YOUR consideration and comment. Until next time, thank you for reading.