Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen Staring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman
“Know, you don’t want to go anywhere and that’s why all the same shit is going to keep happening to you, because you want it to.” –
“is that why?” “Yes, and also because you’re an ASSHOLE!”
Depression, despair, desperation and depravity are all undeniable elements of human existence that no one fully have to live with. Unfortunately for the title character, Llewyn Davis, he lives with these elements every day, and while we the audience only see a week of his life, it sure changes the way we see the music scene from the early nineteen sixties. I’ll try not to spoil anything but it is kind of hard with this type film, where everything develops slowly and methodically. The trailers and advertisements for this film have been light-hearted in showing what the film is about but really the only “happy” parts of the film are when he is just surviving. Llewyn is what we in today’s time would most likely call a bum; barely scrapping by and having to call any and everyone he knows just trying to find a place to sleep every night. He is also a singer songwriter that can’t catch a break with his record sales under performing and his partner dead from suicide.
Life is bleak, but pursuing a passion in life is a dream worth fighting for. Or is it…? What the Coen brothers have put together here is something astonishing that will add greatly to their collection of work, from it’s writing to direction and editing. If you have seen any Coen film before then you should be right at home with what to expect and it surely does deliver, even if it’s not what you thought it would be. Going into this I expected a hard life film that eventually would lead to some promise of a bright future. What I got in return was a slap to the face with real life sentimentality.
One could argue that this is a spiritual successor to one of the previous Coen films “O Brother Where Art Thou?” (Which just happens to be one of my favorites) and I would agree but to a certain lesser extent. Though there is a great reference to it, if you’re able to catch it. Musical sections take center stage with most of the singing done in long takes with fewer than ten cuts per song. It makes the music that’s being sung feel more personal and close to what the characters feel or think. With no musical score to accompany, the sounds of the city and the cold winter weather give the film a very cold, harsh tone that makes the live performances have more impact.
The film also has a bunch of, what basically amounts to, cameos. Justin Timberlake I’m convinced is a good actor under good directors and what little time he has on the screen he makes a good impression and I do hope I see him in more material in the future. John Goodman also appears in a section of the film and gives a great performance that grows on me the more I think about what he said and what happens to his character arc.
About the only criticism I have for the film would be, in normal Coen fashion, the ending is incredibly abrupt and jarring. With that kind of ending it also has so many loose ends that it gives a feeling of “what was the point” and that may be for the best. We only see a week in the life of Llewyn, but maybe that is the point itself, that life is hard and one must adjust and try to survive in a changing world that wont give you a chance.