Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Movie Review: "Inside Llewyn Davis"

Having a dream is one of the things that motivates us. Even if we don't actively pursue our dreams, just the thought of knowing we might someday achieve them is enough to keep us moving forward, even when things seem bleak.

No one knows that as well as Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a folk singer trying to make it in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s. Llewyn used to have a partner, but he committed suicide, leaving him to try and find fame as a solo act. But as the popularity of folk music is beginning to wane from the earnestness of the late 1950s and early 1960s, making it big seems less and less possible for Llewyn, but he is determined to keep trying.

Playing a few gigs here and there, crashing on the couches of friends all over New York (until he alienates them—which proves far too easy for Llewyn to do), Llewyn is struggling to get a foothold. His relationship with fellow singers Jean (Carey Mulligan) and her husband, Jim (Justin Timberlake, looking a little like he's ready for an SNL skit), is somewhat complicated by the fact that Jean is pregnant—and there's a possibility the baby may be Llewyn's. He just can't seem to catch a break no matter what he does, and perhaps that's because, as Jean puts it, "everything you touch turns to shit."

Inside Llewyn Davis is a quieter, more introspective movie than we've seen from the Coen Brothers in some time, but it's equally as powerful as many of their others. It follows Llewyn through a particularly difficult week in 1961, as he tries to scrape together some money, a shot at fame, even a little self-respect, but all seem elusive, and he really must consider whether it's all worth it. But as desperate as he is for a shot, he wants to do it on his own terms—he doesn't want to try and find another partner or join another group, he wants to be appreciated as a solo act.

Oscar Isaac, who was one of the stars of last year's high school reunion movie 10 Years (and sang one of my favorite songs of 2012, Never Had), gives a star-making performance in this movie. He has a phenomenal voice (which is why it's so amazing to me that Llewyn is unable to find fame as a singer) and he imbues his performance with a stubborn yet weary bravado that really works for his character. This really is his movie, as all of the other actors have a few small moments here and there, but you can't take your eyes off of Isaac when he's onscreen.

While this movie doesn't have any of the Coen Brothers' traditional violence, it doesn't lack for quirk. A segment of the movie featuring John Goodman as a jazz musician and a monosyllabic Garrett Hedlund as his driver and valet seems odd and slightly out of place, but it is entertaining. And once you've seen the movie, I'd love to discuss your interpretation of how the movie flowed—was it a flashback, or did Llewyn's whole adventure start all over again?

I thought this was a pretty fantastic movie, despite the difficulties that Llewyn experienced making his dreams come true. But I hope that Oscar Isaac walks away from this movie a star, because his performance proves his talent is truly worthy of that classification.

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