Saturday, January 18, 2014

Film Review: INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

Sad Llewyn and his cat du jour.
Seeing this movie is more like going to a concert than a film. There are lots of scenes featuring mournful folk songs--the setting is Greenwich Village in 1961--performed by the protagonist, and while he's got a great voice and strums along on his guitar so pleasantly you don't really mind, still, they do seem to take a long time to get through, with a close-up of Llewyn's face filling the screen most of the time. (Admittedly he's good-looking, but enough already.) And there are several other songs by other singers as well, leading you to wonder just where the movie went. Then it comes back, and you start wondering where it's going. The answer is nowhere, but it's easy enough just to watch and listen, especially if it's snowing outside when you go.

This is surely a breakthrough film for Oscar Isaac, the star who I never saw before but will likely be seeing again. He's great as a singer and an actor, and makes you like Llewyn despite the fact that all the people in his life don't. A penniless couch-surfer, he sponges room and board from those few people who still tolerate him, and some of them can just barely. Even though he behaves badly, I found him to be the only decent one among the losers and weirdos he encounters in his hitchhiking, meandering travels. Maybe it's because he likes cats. Any man who likes cats has something extra going for him.

The true star is the script, which is quirky and odd like in all of the films by the writing-directing-producing brothers, Ethan and Joel Coen. It's also bleakly depressing, as Llewyn's life worsens with every passing minute, so stay away if you're unhappy, dying, broke or contemplating suicide; this film just might push you over the edge. Unlike some other Coen films, it's not a bit funny.

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