Film Reviews: Sex, cats and folk singing
Inside Llewyn Davis (15A, general release, 105 minutes) Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen. Stars: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman. *****
Joel and Ethan Coen have always been fascinated by failure. Almost all their 16 features revolve around hapless anti-heroes who seem overwhelmed by fate and may even be the targets of a malign deity. None more so than Llewyn Davis, the faintly odious protagonist of this bleak and beautiful comic drama set in Greenwich Village in the bitter spring of 1961.
Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) is a struggling troubadour with good songs, a lovely voice and a difficult personality: between gigs he bums around Manhattan. Among his close friends are Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan), a singing duo and steady couple, but Jean has just found out that she's pregnant, and old Llewyn could be the father. Spooked by this news, Davis strikes out on a quixotic journey to Chicago to visit an agent (F Murray Abraham) who could just be the answer to his prayers.
There are Homeric echoes to Inside Llewyn Davis, which could be seen as a companion piece to O Brother Where Art Thou? But the mood here is much darker, even despairing at times, because the film ponders the dire plight of the failed artist, who must at some point ask himself if there's any point in going on if no one wants to listen. T Bone Burnett's soundtrack brilliantly captures the quirkiness of the era, and the Coens have used early 60s album covers as the inspiration for their dreamy aesthetic.
This is not an easy film, and the brothers themselves have joked that it has no plot, but what it has in spades is poetry, and a tragi-comic grandeur.