To be honest, this was the one movie I really wanted to see this winter. The premise sounded like just the sort of thing the Coen brothers could imbue with their special sort of comic genius. I didn’t see how it could miss.
Now, I’m not saying it did miss. Just that it was not quite what I expected. But then, these guys’ films never are, are they? What we have here is a melancholy road picture that ends precisely where it started. This movie is all about the journey, not any sort of destination. It’s not boring, but it isn’t particularly illuminating either. It unfolds mostly as an oddball odyssey from New York to Chicago and back, and it sometimes echoes scenes from that other winter movie by the Coen brothers: Fargo. The most likable character is an orange cat.
By now you know the setup: A somewhat misanthropic young folk musician (played Oscar Isaac) tries to find success on the wintry streets of 1961 New York. Complications ensue.
The title Inside Llewyn Davis derives from the name of the protagonist’s one album. In the movie, the album exists only in the cardboard box of remainders that Llewyn recovers from his bilious agent. Judging from the soundtrack, this is an album I would buy even today. But, remember: It’s 1961. Llewyn has arrived in Greenwich Village about 15 minutes too soon, just ahead of the Minnesota kid we now know as Bob Dylan.
Timing is everything. And one message of the film is this: Sometimes, maybe most of the time, what you’re selling is not what the world is buying. Llewyn has a soulful tenor and an easy way with the guitar and some really good material, but his abrasive personality is directly at odds with his music. He rubs people the wrong way. And vice versa. Now that I think of it, people probably felt the same way about Dylan.
If, like me, you love every movie the Coen brothers have ever made, you’ve probably already seen this. If you only like the obvious ones: Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski and Fargo … well, you may be a teeny bit perplexed when you emerge from the theater. But you should probably see it anyway. If you do, let us know what you think.