Are life’s indignities worth art’s privileges?
Llewyn Davis thinks so, grinding out the life of a folk singer in the early ’60s, just before Bob Dylan blossoms and Greenwich Village becomes the nerve center for a generation.
As played by Oscar Isaac, in a starmaking turn, Davis comes alive on stage, gifted with a gently frayed voice and a knack for making the old feel new.
Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest character study from the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan), tracks a fictional troubadour over the course of one eventful week, as he fights to make himself heard, musically and otherwise.
The film gently deflates the mythos that has sprung up around the folk scene’s formative years, a wildly romanticized time when artists like Dylan were rewiring popular music.
Davis, of course, isn’t struggling with anything so profound. Instead, he’s trying to cobble together gigs, keep tabs on an escape-prone cat and avoid the wrath of Jean (Carey Mulligan), a former lover who may or may not be carrying his child and who has started a relationship with fellow folkie Jim (Justin Timberlake). Having struck out in New York, he joins drug-addicted jazz musician Roland Turner (John Goodman) and his rockabilly minder Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) for a road trip to Chicago.
Time and again, Inside Llewyn Davis heaps humiliations like homelessness upon its protagonist, and in that regard, it’s strongly reminiscent of the Coens’ A Serious Man, which was likewise elliptical and slightly opaque.
Here, however, the music is the saving grace, in almost every sense of the phrase.
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