Having just embarked on a solo career, Llewyn Davis finds his career not going in the direction he had wished. Regularly found performing at small venues in Greenwich Village in 1960s New York, Llewyn Davis’ life takes a turn for the worse when his best friend’s girlfriend announces that she is pregnant and he might be the father. Homeless Llewyn Davis attempts to balance this with his desperate attempts to make himself noticeable within the music industry.
One of the biggest factors that hinder the Coen brothers' most recent work, Inside Llewyn Davis, is the main character, Llewyn Davis. Llewyn Davis is a hard man to like, wallowing in self pity, sleeping with his best friend’s wife (and getting her pregnant in the process) and occasionally being drunken and obnoxious, are a select number of issues that makes any feeling of sympathy for Llewyn Davis a difficult hurdle to clamber over. Questionable attitude also hinders his favourability to us as an audience, the viewer wonders whether he likes music, often only performing such gigs with the motivation of money, perhaps the constant failure is crushing any love he had for music or perhaps it is the desperate need for money that is driving him to demand financial incentives. However, when he sees his music as a mere job we get the impression that he values the financial rewards of a successful career more than he desires a successful career because of the love he has for the music he plays. If he is successful I would feel that he would see concerts as an obligation rather than a treat to those who adore his music. That said, however, he doesn’t seem keen on making crappy jingles for money so perhaps he is only looking for people to appreciate his music, yet shouts at those who do. Llewyn Davis seems torn between whether he loves the music he plays or despises it, making him a complex character.
These factors thus create a problematic issue in which, I personally, found it difficult to engage with Llewyn Davis, I found it hard to offer up much interest in whether he was successful or not. It became difficult to warm to Llewyn Davis when he would so often alienate himself as though he was a friend you’d offered a place to stay only for him to treat you with contempt in return. However, as the film plays out, I did begin to feel sympathetic towards him when the rejection from producers and friends continued and the freezing cold weather slowly takes its toll. I felt as though I was a friend of his and his self pity and bad luck wared me down into feeling sympathetic and offering him a place to kip on my sofa.
The eventual empathetic reaction to Llewyn Davis’ failures is much owed to Oscar Isaac’s performance and the quality of the Coen brothers' writing. Oscar Isaac’s morose and melancholic performance is exceptional capturing the self pity, sense of loss and increasing resentment and anger. Oscar Isaac’s performance is superb, but is well supported by a number of impressive stars such as John Goodman who gets a notable cameo as a smack addicted Jazz musician. Carey Mulligan is also impressive and gets to say what we all want to say to Llewyn Davis, however Jean Berkey isn’t the best female character that the Coens' have written, she seems a little too one dimensional, but she has one moment of empathy that develops her character more than any time she displayed anger. Another shining star is a little ginger cat that made for an appealing feline companion (that has a deeper meaning than being just a cute feline friend).
The film contains that typical Coen wit (though the best jokes are in the trailer), the production design is terrific and the folk music pleasant to listen to, but the film has a strange effect. Watching the film it is strange that the majority of the film is underwhelming, yet the final result is an overwhelming one. Inside Llewyn Davis is the type of film that improves once one has the time to digest and consider it, realising it as the beautifully measured film that it is. So perhaps all things considered the struggle to empathise with Llewyn Davis, yet we do eventually empathise with him, is intentional and a mark of the Coen brothers' genius.
It’ll probably become apparent from my garbled, and most likely, illiterate review that I am at a loss when attempting to decide what rating I should give the Coen Brother’s latest effort, hence no rating this time…