Is Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) a good guy, a jerk or just a victim of circumstances? He’s a folk singer in NYC’s Greenwich Village in the early 60’s. Life keeps punching him in the face but he keeps getting up and chasing his dream.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a movie about a particular character in a particular setting. The film’s story is almost superfluous.
Music is the fuel that powers ILD and its characters. Most of the performances are top notch; all are, at the very least, passable. Oscar Issac can sing and he can act.
Llewyn has left the merchant marine to sing. He was part of a duo, now he’s a solo act. He’s good but not great. His world includes club owners, record company execs and fellow musicians. Chums Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan) are a couple who occasionally vocalize with Llewyn.
They’re among the many who give Llewyn a place to crash. Jean has also been intimate with Llewyn who, on learning of her pregnancy, arranges a then illegal abortion (which she wants). At one home where he sleeps, the cat follows him out as the door locks and he takes care of the kitty (sort of).
The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, share writing and directing on Inside Llewyn Davis. As with many of their lead characters, Llewyn is conflicted. Does he stick with music or go back to the merchant marine? Does he stay in New York or hitch a ride to Chicago to pursue his dream? Can he tolerate his family or is a clean break necessary? Does he want to perform the songs he sang with his former partner or leave them behind?
John Goodman appears in his 6th Coen brothers film as Roland Parker, an obese, sickly, eccentric musician who gives Llewyn a ride to Chicago. The roadtrip provides a change of scenery and provides Llewyn with a frank appraisal of his potential.
I’ve seen the music biz (performance venues and record labels) chew artists up and spit them out. I’ve seen artists who may have found the path to success rocky and gave up too soon. I’ve also seen artists who refuse to give up, despite clear signs that they should move on. Llewyn has the desire and the tenacity. Which may or may not be a good thing.
As referenced above, don’t go to see Inside Lllewyn Davis for its story. Go for the setting—the time, the place, the mood. And go for the characters, especially Llewyn.