Inside Llewyn Davis written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (CBS Films, StudioCanal, Anton Capital Entertainment, R, 104 min)
Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and John Goodman.
If I could offer a piece of advice to aspiring musicians, it would one, simple terse statement: “Quit.” I don’t mean to be brutally negative, but the music business is not a place for anyone hoping toward a sustainable a career. When I was younger, I had dreams of being in a touring band. Many of the CDs I bought were from underground punk, hardcore, and ska acts. Life on the road seemed glamorous, a pretty awesome career.
But truthfully, most of the bands I followed broke up because they couldn’t survive. Record sales in the thousands or tens of thousands weren’t enough to put food on the table.
Even artists you would assume have made it might not last very long. A song on the radio and a worldwide tour bring short-term riches, but again, not sustainable.
Worse, the music business refuses to function on talent metrics. Some of the most talented musicians I have ever heard move to different careers, while lesser talents with a “marketable” quirk rise up the Billboard charts.
So truly, in blunt terms, quit. If you want a pastime—an avenue to channel creativity and spend time with friends—go play some gigs. More power to you. But please don’t hope for a career.
Greenwich Village, 1961
Inside Llewyn Davis holds this worldview in no uncertain terms. Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) is a starving folk singer, trying to make a name for himself as a solo artist in the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. One thing obvious from the first note is Llewyn’s talent. With a voice capable of conveying the spectrum of human emotion, he’s a legit artist.
Llewyn had previous success with a tune titled, “Fare Thee Well,” recorded with his former partner Mike, who recently committed suicide.
Llewyn jumps from sofa to sofa trying to escape the cold of a New York winter. He always seems to just barely overstay his welcome—especially his good friends Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan).
During a stop Uptown, Llewyn accidently lets his friend’s cat out and he doesn’t have keys to return the feline, thus creating the comical aspect of the film as Llewyn chases around a cat on the streets of New York.
Always hoping for a couple more dollars to keep going, Llewyn hopes to bum a little bit of cash from whomever he can find. Luckily, Jim has a gig for Llewyn as a backup singer for the “John Glenn Singers.” Llewyn finds the song he’s recording frivolous and juvenile but he needs the money, immediately enough that he refuses royalty opportunities so he can get $200 in his pocket.
Desiring to catch his big break, Llewyn hitches a ride with a beat poet, Johnny Five (Garret Hedlund), and jazz musician Roland Turner (John Goodman) to Chicago. Llewyn wishes to follow up with Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham) on his record supposedly sent a month prior.
With Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen brothers work tirelessly to make Llewyn a sort of anti-hero. Truthfully, he’s quite a jerk throughout the film, taking advantage of the grace from friends and distancing himself from family. Often when you think he’s about to redeem himself, he offers the worst possible response.
Clearly, the Coen brothers want to convey the grim, soul-sucking aspect of the music industry. The endless search for fame and success—on Llewyn’s artistic terms—creates a monster. Llewyn chases fame like the pesky and elusive cat and he never seems to keep a grasp on it for more than a few minutes. He probably should take my advice and say “au revoir” to the music industry.
If you’re a fan of music movies or enjoy sitting in tension, Inside Llewyn Davis is a movie for you.
Verdict: 4 out of 5