Inside Llewyn Davis (Rated R, 104 minutes)
Inside Llewyn Davis should be respected on the fact that it takes chances. It tells a quirky story of the unlikeable Llewyn Davis, a down on his luck folk singer. This period piece takes place in 1961, ironically, right before the explosion of folk music into mainstream society.
I want to say that I like this film, but to be honest, I cannot be overly enthusiastic. This has the Coen brothers’ wit, but it is also marred by the depressing tones that have become a staple in their more serious films. Llewyn Davis’s life is not the saddest story ever put on screen, but his constant demoralization from those around him makes the audience feel for the character. However, Llewyn is the catalyst for many of his problems; he is a despicable person, but the audience empathizes with him because most of the surrounding characters are more appalling.
Furthermore, most of the surrounding characters are one note creations designed to spout the Coen brothers’ witty dialogue. Yes, they are funny, but that does not detract from their paper-thin characteristics; John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, and Carey Mulligan are all wasted. But when the film attempts to flesh out these characters, it feels forced and in some cases contradict the intention.
With that said, I love the wit of this film; the sarcastic humor perfectly suits my wheelhouse. There are several quiet scenes where a simple word or sentence had me laughing; and the comedy was perfectly complemented by the beautifully shot film. Yes, the colors are subdued, however, that only aids the storytelling. For instance, a simple scene where Llewyn drives a car in a snowstorm is mesmerizing because of the cinematography. Elements like this made me want to like the film; however, holding Inside Llewyn Davis up to the high standards of a Coen Brothers’ film hinders it.
Now, the previously mentioned paper-thin characters were not as bad as the overt imagery and message; which served as a constant distraction throughout the film. Certain scenes felt as if a film student added the symbolism; for instance, the scene where Llewyn sees ‘what are you doing’ written in a bathroom stall. There is no need for this; the audience understands the message of the film without this blatant writing. The Coen brothers are better filmmakers then that and these boneheaded decisions make me question their prowess.
I understand that the critics love Inside Llewyn Davis, but this felt like a watered down version of a Coen brothers’ film. I would not go as far as calling it a ‘dumb-downed’ movie because there are elements that require repeat viewings; however, the fact that our directors feel the need to bludgeon the obvious message makes this one of their least successful films.
With that said, I recommend this to any person who finds the need to watch every film directed by the Coen brothers: especially if A Serious Man happens to be a favorite. As anyone could see, the bad outweighed the good and Inside Llewyn Davis was a frustrating movie to sit through.