Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"Inside Llewyn Davis": The Film The Oscars Forgot

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

I love the Coen Brothers.  This isn't news to anyone who knows me.  Their films have a way with me.  Between their movies' eclectic cast of characters, and unique, often meandering, method to storytelling, I find that the Coens tend to speak to me in a way other directors just don't quite achieve.

Inside Llewyn Davis is no exception to that rule, and not only is it one of the best films to come out of 2013, but it is one of my favorite films from the Coens' entire career.  This film follows Llewyn, a struggling folk musician in the early 1960s.  Llewyn is, quite bluntly, an asshole.  He bums from couch to couch, seemingly only taking up space as his friends and acquaintances only begrudgingly accommodate him.  Llewyn is an incredibly talented singer, but he can't seem to bring his act outside of the same old dingy bar.  His manager doesn't do anything useful for him, his sister doesn't want him being a bad influence on her son, and his closest friend won't stop berating him for being responsible for her pregnancy.  Oh yeah, and he carries around a cat that he accidently let out of his friends' apartment.

This is a movie about the pain of a struggling musician.  Without giving away too much, Llewyn has very good reasons for his depression, much deeper than anything that could be characterized as a mere artistic melancholy.  The characters Llewyn meets in his journey of self discovery are the medium by which Llewyn can see his pain reflected back at him.  Some are reflections of a past he would rather not remember; others are looks into the future to see what kind of person he could become.  The people closest to him are constant reminders of how the present could hardly look bleaker.  As his friend Jean says, he's like King Midas's idiot brother.  Everything he touches turns to shit.

That isn't to say that the film isn't without its comedic side.  Dark humor pervades this film's dialogue, as Llewyn hides his sorrow behind a veneer of sarcasm and insults that are hard not to chuckle at.  The humor is equal parts awkward and mean-spirited, and it works well with the film's cynical nature.  This is only even better served when a comedic moment revolves around one of the side characters simply being an odd example of humanity, or the begrudged feline sidekick being a surprisingly significant character.

But what is film about a musician worth without the music? I wasn't kidding when I said that Llewyn is a talented singer, and there are many musical performances to back up that assertion, all of them beautiful.  He has such a perfect voice for folk music, and the music acts as the perfect conduit for Llewyn to express the sorrow that he can't seem to voice to anyone else.  It makes Llewyn into the relatable character that the audience needs him to be, and it makes one genuinely care about his struggle.

Speaking of which, Oscar Isaac sorely deserved an Oscar nomination for his performance as Llewyn Davis, and it's a damn shame that the Academy saw fit to pass over this film entirely.  "Please Mr. Kennedy" should easily have been a contender for Best Original Song, and the Coens should have at least have been a nominee for Best Screenplay, Best Directing, and Best Picture.  The last five minutes in particular are so wonderfully powerful that it ties the entire film together into a bar of cinematic gold. 

Do I recommend this film?  Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes YES!  Get a hold of a copy of this film as soon as you possibly can.  Seriously.  It's that good.

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