My sister and I saw a Sunday afternoon screening of Inside Llewyn Davis at the BFI over Easter. It was raining outside and the screening room was so nice and warm, I swear, this was the perfect day to watch this particular movie. I’m not a Coen Brother’s zealot - I can’t say I’ve seen all their films but what I have seen (The Big Lebowski; No Country for Old Men and Fargo) I’ve liked, a lot. Centered on a struggling musician who essentially couch hops his way into the simple lives of others whilst navigating the mess that is his own, Inside Llewyn Davis at its core is about chasing the dream, maybe the American Dream, but unlike its oscar contending biopic counterparts, this tale has less of a shine to it.
Llewyn, a twenty/thirty-something would-be chain-smoking (if he could afford it) out of work musician, is still looking for his big break in the music world. He’s lost his partner - the Garfunkel to his Simon - but he hasn’t lost his ambitions to perform, and more importantly get paid doing it. Throughout the film we meet the people in his life, mainly old friends and family, but his interaction with both will leave you wondering how on earth he’s been allowed to mooch off the poor souls for so long. He’s not particularly charming or even nice. For the most part he’s sardonic, a little pretentious and almost always foul-mouthed. However is he the way he is as a result of his circumstance? Maybe, probably yes. By the end you’ll understand why he is the way he is, where his frustrations are born from, because life is essentially unfair, frustrating and wholly disappointing for the majority of us who don’t get to live our dreams. One scene in particular showcased this; after his ‘final’ performance, Llewyn steps off the stage and in a moment, the likeness of Bob Dylan steps onto it. It just so happens that ‘someone’ from “the Times” is in the audience – in a scene prior we’re led to believe that his admission of defeat could in fact lead to Llewyn’s big break; but we all know how Dylan’s career turned out.
I also came to the conclusion that I don’t care much for folk music. I get it, I really do (Davis’/Isaac’s voice is lovely and the guitar stuff is great), but no one says it better than John Goodman’s Dr John inspired jazz man Roland Turner and even Llewyn himself in the film: folk music is so familiar that it’s banal (a lot like most of life?). It’s a beautifully shot film. As expected (from the Coen films I’ve seen anyway) it boasts vast landscapes of nothing in particular, and a superb cast made up of current big screen darlings, established revered heavyweights and (by hollywood standards) virtually unknown talent. We laughed a lot. The audience of about 30 people I was with laughed a lot, not least because Oscar Isaac in the lead role is fantastic and the script is funny. There’s also a couple of cats taken for the ride, nods to The incredible Journey and Ulysses (one of the cat’s name nonetheless). Combine that with an almost life affirming road trip, this has all the ingredients of a man with plenty of opportunities to be that guy, that lucky few with a great story – but in the end never quite making it.