Review: ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is a chart-topper Special

Posted Dec 20, 2013 by Sarah Gopaul
Joel and Ethan Coen’s ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ presents a week in a young folk singer’s life, chronicling his misadventures in the search for success.
A scene from  Inside Llewyn Davis
A scene from 'Inside Llewyn Davis'
Mongrel Media
Folk isn’t exactly trending right now, yet it remains entrenched in our cultural zeitgeist. Bob Dylan continues to sell out concerts, and bands like Mumford and Sons sell millions of albums. A few films have also capitalized on this tradition, but Inside Llewyn Davis may be one of the most captivating with a first-rate soundtrack and fascinating though somber narrative.
Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) relies on the kindness of his friends and family to provide a roof over his head at night. His emotional baggage outweighs the actual sack of belongings he carries, though his guitar is his most valuable possession. His music career took a hit recently and his latest album is not selling as well as he’d hoped. Llewyn is one road trip away from following in his father’s footsteps and spending the rest of his years as a merchant marine. His odyssey takes him from Greenwich Village to Chicago and back in hopes of impressing a fussy music mogul (F. Murray Abraham) and living his dream.
Llewyn isn’t always the most likeable character. He’s jaded, often flying off the handle and unleashing his world-weary view on unsuspecting companions. Though considering most of these people continue to speak to Llewyn after these incidences, they must also see the decent man that lives behind those outbursts; possibly remember who he was before the tragedy that soured his outlook. For audiences, this softer side is exemplified by the care he shows for a friend’s cat.
The group of actors brought together to play small roles in Llewyn’s journey is noteworthy. Some of the characters are drawn from real-life influences in the folk scene, but none are direct renditions. Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake portray the singing couple Jean and Jim. She’s cynical and regularly sports a false smile; he’s cheerful enough for both of them. Garrett Hedlund is a virtually silent beatnik driving a permanently high jazz musician played by John Goodman to his next gig. And Adam Driver is Al Cody, another performer with a box of unsold albums hidden under a table.
Writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen’s films have been consistently commended for their musical selections. This soundtrack is integral to the narrative, which includes all the songs without interruption. But the music is equally enjoyable outside of the picture. The film opens with Llewyn’s rendition of the melancholy “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” in The Gaslight Café in 1961. Seen from various vantage points, the view from the rear of the audience is the best perspective as it places viewers in the club to appreciate this lovely piece of music. “The Death of Queen Jane” has a similar effect. “Fare thee Well” is a romantic tune performed in full at just the right moment of the film. Conversely, “Please Mr. Kennedy” is a jauntier song that inevitably lightens the listener’s mood. Isaac is a wonderful performer and could not have been better casted in this movie.
And because he couldn’t be excluded, Bob Dylan makes an appearance. The unreleased studio version of “Farewell” is included on the soundtrack.
Directors: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and John Goodman