The last film I saw and reviewed was The Wolf Of Wall Street, a film that I noted for being devoid of any sympathetic characters and likeable figures. Move forward a week and something I did not expect upon beginning my viewing of the latest offering from the Coen brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis, was to come out on the other side with the very same feelings I had after finishing Martin Scorsese’s latest work. The two worlds that each of the films showcase could not be further apart, one universe centred at the heart of capitalist culture and a vile, drug addicted fraud, and the other a look at the life style and struggles of an aspiring folk musician whose worst nightmare is the idea of moving to suburbs and becoming a ‘square’.
There is no doubt that Jordan Belfort and the other characters in The Wolf Of Wall Street are of a far lesser moral standing than Llewyn Davis and the company he keeps in the neighbourhoods of New York City in 1961, but whereas Leonardo DiCaprio’s sins are almost glossed over or anaesthetised by the sheer rampancy and pace of The Wolf Of Wall Street’s incessant parties, orgies and binges, Inside Llewyn Davis’ stripped back and sombre approach only serves to highlight the protagonist’s flaws in a way that is not particularly entertaining or enjoyable for the audience. The film, rather than follow any specific plot, provides more of a ‘day in the life’ type insight in to the life of Llewyn Davis, and we soon come to understand that, as well as being a clearly talented folk musician, he is also an unpleasant mixture of arrogant, obnoxious, selfish and in denial about the way in which his career is failing to take off. A man who heckles other singers, has had to repeatedly pay for abortions and takes advantage of his dwindling number of friends for their hospitality, Llewyn is not a character with whom I felt a positive connection. My personal feelings about the film’s protagonist aside, however, there is no questioning the fact that Inside Llewyn Davis is an effective and interesting document of artistic failure. Llewyn’s frustration really does come across to the viewer as other musicians around him with no noticeable margin in talent gain notoriety as he is forced to continue to couch surf. The film paints the burgeoning folk community of Greenwich Village as one of hostility and negativity, something I know that it has been criticised for by many who were actually a part of it, but for the purposes of the narrative it helps to create a sense of stagnancy for the character.
There are some aspects of the film that I did enjoy, the music being top of the list and, in my opinion, the picture’s saving grace. The film contains upwards of four full length musical sequences that will delight any fans of the folk genre and potentially also those who are not. The music feels authentic to the period and all of those whose voices are put to the test pass with flying colours. The majority of the cast are impressive and suited to their roles, Oscar Isaac carrying the film well and thoroughly convincing in the lead role. Where the acting stands out, for me, is in the vivid supporting roles of Carey Mulligan and John Goodman. Mulligan steals every scene in which she appears as Jean Berkey, wife of Lleywn’s friend and also his sometime secret lover, and Goodman has an all too brief cameo as a heroin addicted jazz musician with whom Llewyn finds himself on an eventful road trip. Though both dealing with individual serious issues such as unwanted pregnancy and drug abuse, both Mulligan and Carey bring a much needed comic edge to what ultimately is a very melancholy film, and it is in these two characters that I see the more quirky, offbeat style of the Coen brothers that I have enjoyed so much in their previous works like Fargo and Burn After Reading. My only problem with regards to the cast is in the decision to give Justin Timberlake the role of singer Jim Berker. It may well be my own failure to suspend disbelief, but I could not see anyone other than Justin Timberlake on the screen. Admittedly this could be the fault of the writers as the character of Jim was rather flat and without much purpose, but Timberlake’s unmistakeable pop voice was the only element of the picture that took me out of the narrative universe and brought me back to the real world.
Overall, my feelings for Inside Llewyn Davis are perhaps a reflection of my feelings for folk music as a whole. I can appreciate the craftsmanship involved in the making of it, I can recognise talent and identify it as such, there are certain facets of it that I enjoy, but ultimately it is not my cup of tea. Though I do not regret watching the film, I fail to understand the hype of it, much like I fail to understand the hype of Bob Dylan.