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Inside Llewyn Davis

Whenever a new Coen brothers film hits the theaters the word Oscar is immediately thrown out in promotion along with it.  Their new film is the story of Llewyn Davis, a folk singer from New York during 1961.  The year and location the film takes place are probably the two most important factors, or interesting segments of the film.  This is a time before the Beatles took over America, or even really grew to popular acclaim in Britain.  Elvis Presley was the dominate force in popular music at the time, so the story of Llewyn is most likely the story of many musicians during that time attempting to break out.

Llewyn spends his days roaming around NYC meeting quite an interesting cast of characters.  A cast only the Coen brothers could create.  He crashes on peoples couches at night which include an upper west side Columbia university professors family, his friend/sometime lover Jean (Carey Mulligan), and pretty much anyone else who will let him in the door.

Oscar Issac who plays Llewyn is fantastic in the role, and plays the frustrated musician as a complete character that really self-destructs, or more self realizes, before or eyes through the entire course of the film.  Llewyn used to have a partner in the music business, and released an album performing as a duo.  The Lennon/McCartney references are small but there, and Llewyn feels the loss of that partner in his music.  Now that he’s on his own he performs at the local Gaslight Cafe every month in hopes that he can get people to listen to him, and perhaps buy his album.  His album is going nowhere though.

What is interesting, and really great about the movie, is that his music is not an after thought.  We get to sit and listen, and his experience his music much like the patrons of the Gaslight get too, and his music is really good.  Remember though, music is as much part of its environment and time as to how good it is as well.

The movie is a series of random events that seem to be guided by a cat that Llewyn chases around. He accidentally let the cat out of his upper west side friends place and has trouble keeping track of him.  Llewyn meets other musicians along the way including Jim (Justin Timberlake) Jean’s boyfriend, Roland Turner (John Goodman in a classic performance as always), Johnny Five, and a number of other musicians and producers.  The funny part is that all these people he meets come from different areas of the country along with different music styles.  Styles that he just doesn’t understand, and some of them don’t really understand him.

Llewyn is a musician.  That is his life.  That is how he wants to succeed and be known, the problem is that he just may not be able to do that, and he may have to succumb to the fact that it will never happen for him.

The Coen brothers do what they do best as always, creating a portrait of very unique characters inside a unique story.  The film hints a lot at the grander scheme of things as far as music and the music scene of New York (that at the time is non-existent), and I like getting a taste of that.  My only gripe is they don’t really flesh out that story enough.  They get a little too caught up in doing the “Coen brothers thing” instead of really tapping even deeper into what could be a more resounding film.  This is a minor gripe and certainly the film is better than a lot of films I’ve seen this year, but it unfortunately does hold it back from being one of the best of the year.

Grade: B+