Movie: Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis, the new film from Joel and Ethan Coen, is a hymn to squandered potential, missed opportunities and unsung genius, a perfectly pitched melancholic comedy set in the New York City folk music scene of 1961. It has an acidically funny Kafkaesque streak that recalls the brothers’ 2009 coming-of-age drama A Serious Man, although it is more of a piece with their 2000 masterwork O Brother, Where Art Thou?, from its magpie borrowings from Homeric myth to its seriously groovy soundtrack. Their film strikes the near-impossible balance of being uproarious entertainment in the moment and a profound philosophical treatise in retrospect, and you drift out of the cinema on an intensely weird cloud of existential angst and toe-tapping acoustic guitar music.

Oscar Isaac stars as Llewyn Davis, a struggling folk singer who plays thinly attended gigs at The Gaslight Café, a club in the city’s West Village. But despite his low profile, he is extraordinarily talented, which the Coens establish in a blissful, pared-down opening sequence in which he performs the old Dave Van Ronk number ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’.

Llewyn is effectively a Bob Dylan manqué, right down to the familiar Welsh twang of his name – and the film goes on to suggest that, with a little more luck and slightly better timing, he might have won the Dylanesque degrees of success and acclaim that he so hungrily craves. Instead, he sleeps on friends’ sofas, tramps the cold streets of Manhattan without a sensible coat, and treats other performers at the club with florid contempt. Two of them are Jim and Jean, a singing duo (and married couple) played by Justin Timberlake and a hysterically irritable and flossy-haired Carey Mulligan. Early in the film, Jim wins Llewyn a session gig on a novelty record called ‘Hey Mr. Kennedy’, and the song exudes so much guileless joy it raised a cheer at the critics’ screening at Cannes.

An odyssey of sorts unfolds when an audition takes Llewyn west to Chicago, and he hitches a ride with an ogreish jazzman (John Goodman) and his beat poet ‘valet’ (Garrett Hedlund). Later, the return trip involves a heartbreaking decision about which fork in the road to take. Throughout his journey, we increasingly feel that Llewyn is trapped in an unwinnable game of catch-up with fate, and the sense becomes so gnawing that it threatens to take off your leg. An ingenious running joke about a runaway cat hints that a more conventionally heroic narrative may be unfolding elsewhere; meanwhile, on-screen, the New York streets look as grey as gravestones, and a chill wind tickles almost every shot. This is instant A-list Coens; enigmatic, exhilarating, irresistible.

– Robbie Collin, The Daily Telegraph

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  • Margaret F.

    I'd be up for some cheer afterwards, if anyone else is interested. see you there, Margaret

    December 29, 2013

    • Ghassan

      That's a good idea. I would be interested. See you there.

      December 29, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    What's the parking situation like around there, Ghassan?

    December 28, 2013

    • Ghassan

      There's always street parking; I've never had a problem. You can also park inside the Loblaws for $2.

      December 28, 2013

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