<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen. Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F Murray Abraham, Ethan Phillips, Robin Bartlett, Max Casella, Adam Driver, Stark Sands
Not knowing what to expect from this film we took our seats in the less than half-full auditorium. But unlike other films (with packed theatres) it was clear everyone who watched Inside Llewyn Davis liked the film.
It leaves you a bit melancholy after. It’s sort of a bittersweet journey filled with misery and masterful moments, wit and wandering.
Llewyn Davis played by Oscar Isaac is a down and out folk singer. But you’d never guess it from the first scene in the film where he’s playing to a packed nightclub during the early 1960s and you know he’s good, not great but certainly good. Llewyn was part of a duo but his partner jumped off a bridge. Not the Brooklyn Bridge mind you. Now he struggles with a solo career playing whatever gigs he can and sleeping on whatever couches his ‘friends’ will offer him.
Clumsy, doleful and not particularly optimistic about life or people, Llewyn Davis still trudges along on his quest to find himself and slowly pull himself out of his vagabond ways. But at every turn he finds rejection and disappointment. He deals with it with his acerbic wit and sometimes deadpan expressions.
His priorities aren’t always in the right place either. Friends John (Justin Timberlake) and Jean Berkey (Carey Mulligan) who are also singers let him use their house but Jean isn’t too happy since she ‘may’ be carrying Llewyns’ baby. How she proceeds to admonish him for his irresponsible life is both hilarious and meaningful.
There’s a cat in the film, well actually two that also provide a sort of meandering metaphor of the protagonist’s life. Running away from one place to another.
Then there are the cameos by wonderfully eccentric characters. John Good man as Roland Turner is particularly impactful as is his Man Friday Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) who is portrayed – or rather parodied – as a sort of James Dean meets Robert Redford character. Brilliant.
Ethan Phillips (Star Trek Voyager’s Neelix) plays a kindly professor who takes pity on the gifted Llewyn and helps him out. But Llewyn never seems that grateful to the benefactors in his life. He complains and bemoans his life but with just a little bit of hope.
Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan are perfect and so is Stark Sands who plays Troy Nelson.
The cinematography is grey and cold (the weather is winter through most of the film) and provides a fitting backdrop to the shades of grey characters that have depressing lives but haven’t lost all hope.
Inside Llewyn Davis has been masterfully crafted by the Coen Brothers (in the vein of A Serious Man) who make a simple scene of recording a track called Please Mr Kennedy so delightfully fun and whimsical and at the same time so insightful. There’s also some great music in there by music composer T-Bone Burnett.
PS: Inside Llewyn Davis won the Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Film Festival 2013