Singing The Praises Of Llewyn Davis

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 14 2013 @ 8:35am

Jack Hamilton gives a rave review of the new Coen brothers movie:

Inside Llewyn Davis is easily the best film ever made about the folk revival, and it’s also one of the very best films ever made about music, period. For a movie about authenticity obsessions that recreates its place and period with exacting detail, its soundtrack isn’t much for slavish verisimilitude: [lead actor] Oscar Isaac’s singing voice is far more indebted to Jeff Buckley (still a twinkle in his folksinging father’s eye in 1961) than [folk legend Dave] Van Ronk or even Bob Dylan. These anachronisms strangely work, making the music feel newly vital while honoring the spirit and conviction of the period. And the film’s performance sequences are luxurious and fully real: they’re not cut short by impatient edits, hitched to montages, or bludgeoned into bold-faced Turning Points.

Tomas Hachard appreciates that the film shows that “some people faced private tragedy and inner turmoil even in the open-minded, happy-go-lucky 1960s, and many came out just as lost as when they entered”:

Inside Llewyn Davis’s main character is not destined to lead an artistic movement, even if he has the views for it: Though he’s secure in his convictions, Llewyn is insecure in life. He wanders from couch to couch in New York like a man in permanent limbo. The characters around him can seem archetypal and cartoonish at first, until you realize that we’re seeing them through Llewyn’s eyes, filtered by his preoccupations and rigid determinations of how the world should work. For example, when Jean (Carey Mulligan), his friend, fellow musician, and sometime lover, shares that she might one day like to settle down in the suburbs with kids and that playing music may just be a way to get there, Llewyn tells her, “It’s a little careerist, it’s a little square, and it’s a little sad.”

Eileen Jones finds that the movie’s “themes of hardship, joblessness, pinched resources, scarce opportunities, and swiftly lowering expectations” still resonate today:

Though the film is set in 1961, it’s not a 1961 we’ve ever seen posited in any other period film that readily comes to mind. Here is no vision of the “Camelot” presidency of JFK, of martini-drinking advertising executives in sleek suits, or even of the comparatively flourishing folk music scene in its Bob Dylan heyday. Here is an alternate vision of America in its great era of prosperity. The Coens have made a movie about failure in an era when, the standard pop-histories tell us, nobody really failed. They continue to look at the struggle of those on the margins, at failure among bungling strivers with grandiose dreams. The directors somehow maintain their faith that we’ll actually be interested enough in our own lived experience to appreciate their black comic vision of it.

In spite of its main character’s hardships, J. Hoberman calls the movie “certainly [the Coen brothers’] warmest film in the 16 years since The Big Lebowski“:

Crashing on couches, mooching meals, and obtusely refusing to “sell out,” poor Llewyn is one more hapless Coen protagonist. The folk singer is alternately sullen and pugnacious; having just put out an album titled Inside Llewyn Davis that no one seems interested in buying, he doggedly pursues an apparently hopeless career in a dead-end scene, amply stocked with colorful grotesques. … The Coens have characterized Inside Llewyn Davis as an exercise in futility, “an odyssey in which the main character doesn’t go anywhere.” The movie is in fact a prolonged flashback to the protagonist’s moment of triumph and the ignominious defeat that inevitably follows.