Monday, December 23, 2013

"Inside Llewyn Davis," Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

The latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen depicts a few days in the life of a hapless, scruffy folk singer, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), in the Greenwich Village of 1961. The Coens set this milieu, the height of the folk music boom, perfectly amidst Village landmarks: Washington Square Park, the Caffe Reggio, the Village Cigars store. The film opens and closes at another, now defunct, landmark, the Gaslight Cafe, where Davis is performing. It's as a performer where Davis's humanity is most apparent; when not singing, he's frequently sullen or offensive, whether at a dinner party at a professor's apartment on the Upper West Side, visiting his sister in Queens or trying to arrange an abortion for his friend's angry wife (Carey Mulligan), whom he may have impregnated. Taking a break from sleeping on couches in friends' apartments, Davis travels to Chicago for an audition that ends in frustration. He takes his place among the losers in such Coen brothers films as "Barton Fink" and "A Serious Man" (reviewed here), which reverse the Horatio Alger myth and portray a world of malevolence or indifference. Poignant and humorous, "Inside Llewyn Davis" is a reminder of the many performers we don't hear about, those who don't make it–and of the dedication to their art that motivates them to strive, at least for a while.


Michael J. Mand said...

The Coen brothers offer an interesting perspective of a revolutionary time in music - more specifically, activist folk music. We are well familiar with those who emerged successful, either financially (Peter, Paul & Mary, e. g.), through thier societal impact (Phil Ochs), or both (Bob Dylan). Here, we see the village scene through the eyes of one who fell far short of his asperations. We are left to wonder about Davis' ultimate fate.

Jeff Tone said...

There are some who carry on with activist folk music, including Billy Bragg, Steve Earle and Cathy Grier, who was an excellent guest on your show St. James Infirmary: