reviewed by Tom-Tom
Roots music isn’t new to the Coen Brothers. Their loopy adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey was satisfyingly filled start to finish with the great tunes. “Inside Llewyn Davis” begins in 1961 with a dark haired, bearded gentleman singing a gentle rendition of a old folk tune whose lyrics include “hang me.” Many great tunes ensue encircling a seemingly light story with fun Coen Bros. characters involving a cat, a potty mouthed but sweet voiced singer Jane (Carey Mulligan of “An Education” and one of the greatest Doctor Who episodes ever (“Blink”) fame) and her partner Jim (played by Justin Timberlake). The eponymous character is homeless, staying at a variety of friends’ houses and a professor’s from which the cat plot emerges. He has a mouth on him as well but no one minds but his sister, one of the various folks he asks for money. It’s the middle of winter and he doesn’t even have a decent coat. The Coen Brothers sure have a great albeit unusual sense of humor. This is evidenced in the funny goings on between Llewyn’s agent (as absurdly unorganized as a Kafka character) and his secretary and the silly song he records with Jim called “Please Mr. Kennedy”with a wacky bass part from outer space, yet quite fitting for the setting. That’s not the only wacky part of this movie. I don’t how they do it, but without any hyperbole, histrionics, affectation, or anything overly out of the ordinary, Joel and Ethan Coen consistently turn out original, deadpan comedies simply by assembling such a continually variegated line of normal, yet memorable characters who utter lines such as, “Where’s his scrotum? WHERE’s his scrotum?” with such genuine and homely outrage (referring to the abovementioned cat in this instance).
Llewyn’s journey takes him to Chicago. On the way, he meets a jazz musician Roland Turner played by John Goodman in another fine Coen Bros. directed performance. He criticizes folk music as being too simplistic compared to jazz. He caustically dismisses the gravity of Llewyn’s partner’s death by suicide and raps on the singer’s shoulder with the cane he dons like a sword from the backseat. Things don’t go well for Llewyn in Chicago and he bums a ride (a drive really) back to New York. Oscar Isaac plays the ne’er do well folk singer with gravity, saying much without even opening his mouth. He seems weighed down by rejection and poverty (not to mention tragedy) but still hungry for success, he trails forward. He doesn’t compromise much although in his desperate traits, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. He’s done being part of a team and is insistent on going alone with or without a cat. Some of the other groups make the viewer realize the reputation of folk music that John Goodman’s jazzman was complaining about. One can see that Llewyn Davis has to put up not only with other more established music scenes but the lesser performers who inhabit his own. The film ends on an incomplete note but leaves us with an outline of a struggling performer in a burgeoning field. A couple characters of folk fame make cameos towards the end foretelling the future of folk and gives us some hope for our starving artist. There are so many golden songs in this film that the soundtrack is a must have after viewing it. It makes a fine companion to its spiritual predecessor, “Brother Where Art Thou?”