Some people have weird expectations when it comes to the films of Joel and Ethan Coen. While remaining quirky, they’re always highly enjoyable. Even in some of their more throw-away projects, entertainment abounds: The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty, and Burn After Reading instantly come to mind here. In the case of their latest, Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coens are at it again, making a film unlike any they’ve made before while maintaining the top-notch quality we’ve come to expect. Packed with hilarious dialogue, an amazing cast, spectacular cinematography, and one of the best soundtracks of the year, Inside Llewyn Davis is exactly the kind of Oscar-fare you’d expect to see.
Inside Llewyn Davis refers to a solo album recorded by Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). Spending his nights performing in Greenwich Village’s Gaslight Café, one night he’s attacked by a man in a suit setting off a string of events. Llewyn spends the night at Mitch Gorfein’s apartment (Ethan Phillips) and accidentally lets the cat out with the apartment door locking behind him. Now, Davis embarks on a musical odyssey with his new feline companion.
Davis heads out to crash with his friends Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan), where Jean informs Llewyn she’s pregnant with a baby that could be either Llewyn’s or Jim’s, and just in case the baby could be Llewyn’s, she wants an abortion. Broke and homeless, Davis sets out for Chicago with Roland Turner (John Goodman) and his driver Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) after meeting Al Cody (Adam Driver) during a recording session at Columbia Records to seek out producer Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham) and find better representation and become a star.
Inside Llewyn Davis may be the Coen Brothers most meandering film yet, jumping from one situation to another. They’ve even admitted that the cat was thrown in after they realized there was no plot whatsoever. But some films don’t necessarily need a plot. The characters and situations drive it. It’s not like we haven’t seen a slice-of-life film before. Burn After Reading literally had no plot as even in the final scene the whole film is hilariously shrugged off by one of the most minor characters. What the Coen Brothers are up to this time is simply shining a light on the New York music scene of the ’60s. Don’t be surprised if a nod to Bob Dylan shows up.
The soundtrack is the real star of the show here, with everyone required to sing the songs live. Quite a feat considering a lot of the performances are single takes. I have coined a term I use for films like these as “coincidental musicals” where the film isn’t a musical, but is packed with tons of songs. A couple of other films falling into this category would be That Thing You Do!, Walk Hard, Walk the Line, and the best of them: Once. T-Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford (yes, of Mumford & Sons) produced the music and is one for the books. The cast sing their hearts out, particularly Oscar Isaac, but that should come as no surprise considering he’s the star of the film. The Coen Brothers haven’t released a film since 2010’s True Grit, and Inside Llewyn Davis is a welcome addition to their ever expanding filmography and one of the year’s best films.
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