Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis: That's All Folk!

Inside Llewyn Davis may sound like a Welsh hairy-hand flick, but it is infact an American hairy-face flick. it's the story of a fetchingly bearded man wandering a frozen 1960s New York, trying to make his way in the folk music scene. He basically spends the whole film grouching around like a sourpuss hipster douche, chasing cats, mooching off his friends and annoying pretty much everyone. And he plays some songs.

And that's about it.

And it's flipping brilliant.

This is, in many ways, the Coen Brothers' spiritual sequel to "O Brother Where Art Thou?", a similarly meandering and seemingly futile oddysey punctuated with beautifully selected and performed folk music. There's a lot less gurning and falling over, though.

The titular Llewyn is a surly bundle of selfish frustration and is brought to vivid life by Oscar Isaac, who does the impossible by making this prick always watchable even when he's unlikable, and even winning our sympathy as we learn more about the hapless troubadour. It's great to see Isaac finally taking centre stage after Drive and best-thing-in-a-shit-film turns in Sucker Punch and Robin Hood. Remember Robin Hood? The Ridley Scott one? No? What was I talking about?

A host of quality actors drop in and out of Llewyn's ramble from coffeeshop to music studio to gutter and back, from Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake as long-suffering "friends", John Goodman as a grumpy jazz snob, the honey-monster looking bloke from Tron: Legacy and Neelix from out of Star Trek: Voyager. As you'd expect from the Coens, everyone is perfectly cast and even those with previous poor form raise their game accordingly.

A palpable atmosphere is concocted by flawless production design capturing period detail, washed out cinematography evoking the long, dark New York City winter of Llewyn's troubled soul and the smoky dives he sets up in. It's one of those films that looks Instagrammed. You can almost smell the coffee and knitwear.

And as for the music, the "Please Mr Kennedy" scene alone is the best depiction of musicians working since a Guy and a Girl sat down at a music shop piano in Once.

The film is probably best described as a black comedy,  as Llewyn stumbles through a series of unfortunate events (many of his own making) becoming increasingly disillusioned with his lot in life
and ever more cynical towards his musical calling, but the bleak and absurd laughs are always there to temper any sentimental drifts.

The tragi-comic tone of the film is perhaps best encapsulated in a seemingly simple visual gag revealing that Llewyn's attempts to stash a box of surplus copies of his LP under a table are being thwarted by somebody else's similar box already stashed there. Everybody's chasing their dreams, but not everyone's going to catch them.

This isn't the folk 8 Mile. But you might lose yourself in the music.

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