Thursday, March 13, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) ***½

R, 104 min.
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Writers: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Ethan Phillips, Robin Bartlett, Max Casella, Jeanine Serralles, Adam Driver, Stark Sands, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Alex Karpovsky, Helen Hong, Bradley Mott, F. Murray Abraham, Stan Carp

Pain is something we all deal with differently. Some people simply refuse it. Some people bottle it up. Some people use their talents to redirect it. In fact, pain is a great artistic motivator. It’s no secret that many musicians and comedians come from lives filled with personal pain. With “Inside Llewyn Davis”, cinematic maestros Joel and Ethan Coen have endeavored to paint a portrait of that pain in the form of an early 60s folk singer in the vein of Bob Dylan.

An actor appears as Dylan in the final moments of the film, although he’s not credited as such, as an example of just where such pain can lead in those very rare cases. Llewyn Davis’s experience is probably more common. He’s that wonderfully talented musician that you never learn about. He probably has a very small but devout following, but as F. Murray Abraham assesses about his wonderful music late in the film, “I don’t see any money in it.”

Davis’s pain comes from a lifetime of it, including a father who never expressed his love and saw him as a weakling for embracing art. But, the pain driving Llewyn over the course of the week in which the events of this film take place is something more specific, directly related to and affecting his music career. He was once half of a folk duo. Since that partnership ended, Llewyn is struggling in coming to terms with “going solo.” It isn’t revealed right away just what happened to the partnership, but it has greatly affected Llewyn’s outlook.

It’s important to realize that Llewyn’s life has always been a mess, but this may be the first development that has so affected his passion for making music. What the Coens give us here are the life ramblings of a man who rambles folk stories for a living. Llewyn is erringly human, however, and fails to add the structure to his own life story that he applies to his yarns of the lovelorn and the workingman. It isn’t for lack of trying. He even heads to Chicago on a hasty road trip to try and obtain a worthwhile agent. Plus, there’s the cat that he desperately tries to do right by.

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