Looking Back at 2010s Films: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

26 Nov

By Tanner Smith

The Coen Brothers’ ode to the late-’50s/early-’60s folk-music scene, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” has become somewhat of a trading secret between movie lovers. Not enough people talk about it, but those that do usually praise it to high heaven. And I can certainly see why. It’s as offbeat and ridiculous as many of the Coen Brothers’ best-known works, but there’s something else to it as well–something that speaks to people (particularly those trying to make it in the arts) through the lead character, who is surly, depressed, and either trying so hard or not hard enough to make a name for himself in folk music. It’s the kind of film (and character) that wouldn’t work for a mainstream audience, because it’s so downbeat and also zigzagging, but would delight indie-scene individuals because both its narrative and characters are identifiable.

The setting is Greenwich Village, 1961. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a broke, homeless folk singer. With his guitar, he comes alive by performing a song. Without his guitar (hell, even WITH his guitar, which he often brings with him), he’s a bum crashing from place to place. And the film is just pretty much following this guy around for about a week as he interacts with friends, family, acquaintances, and new people he comes across. We see his offbeat relationship with an old flame, fellow musician Jean (Carey Mulligan), who is pregnant and doesn’t want the baby if it’s Llewyn’s and not her current boyfriend’s. (“Everything you touch turns to SH*T!” she snaps at him at one point.) We see him collaborate with other musicians–Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Al Cody (Adam Driver)–for easily the best song in the movie (which admittedly has a very strong soundtrack–I’m humming at least three of these tunes as I write this post), “Please Mr. Kennedy.” We see his rocky relationship with his sister (Jeanine Serralles), from whom he tries to borrow money. We even see him go on a bizarre road trip to Chicago with Roland Turner (John Goodman) and Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund).

Oh, and there’s a cat too…I don’t know why the cat is there, but he’s a great supporting cat.

So many aspiring artists wish to do what they love doing for a living, and they’re often faced with a choice–continue struggling until something great happens to come along and set them for life…or get a “real” job with steady income. Sometimes, the choice is difficult to make because so many of us want to use our talents to our benefit. (Yes, I include myself–I want to make movies, not write about them forever.) That’s the choice Llewyn has to make in the end. (What’s beautiful about the resolution is that there hardly is a resolution–we don’t know the choice Llewyn ultimately makes.) There is a possibility that Llewyn will continue to struggle because he’s gotten used to it, as Jean bluntly insinuates at one point, but if he does make it in the field, he may actually turn out more miserable than he already is. It’s interesting to think about, and that’s one of the main reasons I think people love this movie. This is not your basic “star-is-born” story.

The cast is perfect, the songs are memorably well-suited, Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography is wonderful, and it’s a Coen Bros. movie through and through. And upon seeing it again, I’m not gonna lie…it came close to making the decade-end top-20 list.

One Response to “Looking Back at 2010s Films: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Prepping for My Top 20 Films of the 2010s | Smith's Verdict - November 26, 2019

    […] Grit” (Gritty, Compelling Dramas/Thrillers)—“True Grit,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Prisoners,” “First Reformed,” “Mud,” “Leave No […]

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