Movie Review - Inside Llewyn Davis

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen as co-writers and co-directors have successfully conveyed the idea of coldness. Yes, this film is set in 1961 in New York City, a fact that is not made distinct through any other production design choices that I detected other than everyone still using vinyl records. However, the 21st century has brought a resurgence of vinyl, so that's not conclusive. The time is set through references to President Kennedy and the abundant use of pay phones.

Thrusting us into the era is less important to the Coens than pushing on the movie-goer an overwhelming sense of coldness and dreariness. There is a haze that hangs over this film that not only drains it of color but also of energy. In that regard, it's the perfect winter film. Oscar Isaac plays Llewyn Davis, the titular character and folk singer who aspires to fame and fortune, or in the least to make a living with his music.

The beard on his face and thick, curly hair on his head might be style choices, but seem like at times protection from the bitter and very chilly air. His lack of a proper coat has him shivering in all of his moments outside, of which there are many, as Llewyn is in fact homeless and resorts to shuttling himself by foot or by subway to various friends to sleep on their couches.

Aside from the eternal cold that Llewyn feels in his wanderings from here to there in efforts that ultimately get him nowhere, there's also an internal coldness that he and other characters in this film radiate that made the movie mostly insufferable. Llewyn rarely displayed any warmth.

Most of the movie has him acting out of desperation, desperation not to be on the streets or to go hungry. Yet, it felt like a desperation that had gone for too long, so long that it went past the point of acceptability. This cannot be a commentary on the music business because at this point the idea of the starving, struggling artist in New York is cliché. It's hackneyed. It's a joke.

Yes, the Coens are known for their comedies. In recent years, their sense of humor has gotten more subtle and sardonic. The comedy here is equally so. Llewyn rattles out some one-liners and there are some gags concerning a cat, but none of it rises to a level that is genuinely laughable.

It's not funny because at no point does the Coens provide a reason to care about Llewyn. The prospect of fatherhood should have been enough, but for the Coens it's only a bait and switch. There is no way to like this man. Opening with a full musical performance is a nice attempt but his overriding coldness from within takes away that he's a relatively good singer and guitarist.

John Goodman is certainly insufferable. The entire road trip sequence involving his character was like torture. The only value is to reveal the suicide of Llewyn's music partner, a fact that is never revisited. Again, the Coens attempt to provide a reason to care about Llewyn but ultimately it's a bait and switch.

The rest of the movie is otherwise boring. It's more of the same that we get in the first reel, as it were. It is perhaps worth it for the really good line reading from F. Murray Abraham, but not quite. It all just leads to a disappointing ending.

The past few films from the Coens have had disappointing endings. It started with No Country for Old Men (2007), and it's gotten to where I'm starting to think that the Coens don't like endings any more. They simply craft a series of events, and when they've come up with enough to fill two hours or so, they simply stop.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language including some sexual references.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 44 mins.


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