Inside Llewyn Davis Apr 30, 2014 7:25:24 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Apr 30, 2014 7:25:24 GMT -5
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Oscar Isaac plays his guitar in Inside Llewyn Davis.
While watching Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis, a film that undoubtedly details a fierce bout of depression its titular character is battling, I became deeply upset and sorrowful, to the point of simply not saying much while viewing it, lumbering through the remainder of my night, and finally, going to bed with a lump in my throat. I awake this morning to write the film's review in a more refreshed but still fragile state-of-mind.
This is one of the strongest impacts a film has had on me in quite sometime. On this basis alone, the film deserves a glowing review, but thankfully, the film is stuffed with greatness that appears to be bursting from the seams, so that part isn't tricky. What's tricky is to convince you, the reader who perhaps hasn't seen Inside Llewyn Davis, why it's so great and why it's the next film you need to see. My only condition before continuing is you promise not to ignore this recommendation because the film is "depressing" or "sad."
Set in New York City's Greenwich Village in 1961, the film follows a week in the life of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Issac), a depressed and struggling folk singer, who has just lost his singing partner Mike Timlin after he throws himself off the George Washington Bridge. Llewyn is now stuck in a funk, forced to continue his singing career by himself, which we can see isn't going so well. Llewyn's performances in folk lounges and in impromptu meeting sessions is great, but one can tell he stood behind his partner Mike when performing. Llewyn clearly needs someone to help him sound more polished, but because he's forced to be on his own, this makes getting gigs and being accepted into the folk world that much more difficult.
Llewyn is as wayward as one can be, currently not living anywhere, and frequently staying in the apartment of his closest acquaintances Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan). Jim finds Llewyn to be a good guy to work with, while Jean loathes him; she tells him to his face that he is "King Midas's idiot brother," for everything he touches turns to s***. Jean also reveals to Llewyn that she is pregnant, and fearing that there is a chance that Llewyn could be the father, decides to abort the child to do away with it entirely. Everywhere Llewyn goes, he finds little to no acceptance; even a mildly optimistic drive to Chicago with two other musicians results in Jazz musician Roland Turner (John Goodman) browbeating him the whole way. His only companion is his neighbor's (metaphorical) cat, whom Llewyn guards with his life and lugs around with him wherever he goes, despite frequently losing it.
Watching Llewyn be verbally assaulted, mistreated, and unappreciated, you just want to shed tears, which is what I did within minutes of the film. During the first few minutes, we hear the beautifully-sung tune "Fare Thee Well," which Llewyn sung with Mike, while watching a clearly broken Llewyn riding the subway with the cat he so lovingly protects from danger. Yet, despite a scene like this, one questions how much we can sympathize with Llewyn. While he is clearly facing a deep, professionally and emotionally affecting depression, we see him neglect important things, like the feelings of his acquaintances, personal responsibilities, his constant refusal to compromise, and so forth. Some viewers may find Llewyn difficult to sympathize with; once you realize that many of his actions are likely attributable to his severe bout of depression is when the character becomes easy to have sympathy for.
Llewyn wouldn't be the character he is without the help of Oscar Isaac, an incredible new find of an actor who you will hear more and more about in the next few years - mark my words. Isaac nails the beautiful nuances and facial expressions that indicate something is right with our protagonist. He handles the outbursts, the heartbreak, the smug wit, and the complications of Llewyn with biting realism and understated craft, never becoming too over-the-top nor too subtle and inhuman. Other talents that encompass the picture are Mulligan, Timberlake, and Goodman, all of which bringing their own character to the table in an effective manner.
Then there's the incredible music and cinematography that just loan themselves to the material at hand. The music, first and foremost, is riveting, built from the ground up on some of the catchiest and most memorable folk ballads you've heard in years. From the exceptional "Fare Thee Well," to the goofy and infectious "Please Mr. Kennedy," the smooth and soothing "Five Hundred Miles," and the somber performances of "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me" by Llewyn, which bookends the film, everything about the picture's soundtrack is moving and effective. Then there's the beautifully bleak visuals, thanks to renowned cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, who effectively personifies depression through the film's excessive black and gray visuals. If you call the film's palette of colors "ugly," you're only reemphasizing the feelings of the protagonist of the film.
Finally, there's the lovable orange tabby cat of the picture, named Ulysses, who, as I stated, is metaphorical to some extent. Without trying to give too much away to unaware viewers, the cat embodies a spirit that Llewyn clings to, which is shown by the fact that Llewyn goes to great lengths to protect the cat (running through a crowded subway or a city block when the "spirit" tries to escape), and how Llewyn feels when he is attempting to let go of the cat in late scenes. To talk on a more inclusive note, the cat just so happens to also be incredibly adorable and steals almost every scene he is in, similar to the immensely talented terrier Uggie from 2011's Best Picture winner The Artist.
Inside Llewyn Davis plunges you into its lead character's world utilizing what could be classifiable as mumblecore filmmaking techniques, giving you many different emotions to feel and many different instances that you can either quietly laugh at or simply sulk at. Watching this film, as stated, was an incredibly emotional experience for myself, not on a personal level but a human level. The Coen brothers have gone on to detail one of the best films about depression and loss that I have yet to see and, in addition, have made a film that speaks to the folk music world in a lyrics and themes far too many of them probably understand.
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Garrett Hedlund, and John Goodman. Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen.