Folk singing has never really found great success in this world. Every time there’s a resurgence, poorly written pop tunes and formulated hip-hop command the airwaves and bury any chance of folk making it big. Perhaps it’s because folk music just isn’t as catchy. Or, perhaps it’s because people aren’t willing to give it a chance and really sit down and listen to the music. The words tell amazing stories and the feeling behind them conveys everything you need to know about the singer. These folk singers care about their music and the passion lies within the words. Never once have folk singers had it easy and there’s never really been a place for them. Woke we hear the success stories of other artists, we really only hear the hardships of the folk singers. It’s unfortunate that we live in a world where the catchiest song and singer gets the biggest and best opportunity.
Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) appears onstage on begins to strum his guitar. As the crowd of the Gaslight Club watches and listens, Llewyn pours his heart into one of his folk songs. Then, Llewyn finds himself on the couch of a friend’s for the umpteenth time. His life is a series of repetitions that involves searching for a gig and a place to stay by the end of the night. Most often, Llewyn stays with the Gorfein’s (Ethan Phillips & Robin Bartlett), the parents of his one partner, and their cat Ulysses. Up leaving for a new place to stay, Ulysses gets out and Llewyn is forced to care for him. Later, Llewyn finds himself back at the home of Jim & Jean’s (Justin Timberlake & Carey Mulligan). Jim is a successful singer transitioning into pop and Jean was once Llewyn’s lover. While the two find success with changing their music, Llewyn is reluctant to leave the music he loves.
Between jumping from couch-to-couch, Llewyn also struggles to fund work with his current manager. The opportunity of a lifetime awaits him in Chicago, but it would mean Llewyn risks everything for one audition. Ultimately, Llewyn manages to find a ride it that way with jazz performer Roland Turner (John Goodman) and his valet, Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund). This drive alone sums up for Llewyn how everyone feels about folk. At every turn, people are putting down his work and even go so far as deny that folk is a legitimate type of music. Everything Llewyn is seeking lies in Chicago and in his ability to show himself and everyone else that folk is a music that needs to be heard. Would people really want to hear a song off of his album, Inside Llewyn Davis?
Walking out of the theater, I heard two types of reactions towards this film. Myself and many others were moved by this film, is music, and the actors. Others, don’t enjoy folk and found the film to be utterly boring. A lot of this, I believe, stems from people’s appreciation for Folk and the stories behind the music. I know that I barely listen to Folk and would usually much rather listen to 80’s Pop or Jazz from the 50’s. Others, may choose Rock, Alternative, Rap, Hip-Hop, Classical, or literally anything else. Folk music just hasn’t caught on, nor has it dominated airwaves. After seeing this film, I immediately purchased the soundtrack and fell asleep to it. There’s something within the character of Llewyn Davis that is all to familiar to myself and others.
It’s no argument that Ethan & Joel Coen are two of the best filmmakers that the world has ever seen. The two are responsible for such hits as: Fargo, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, & True Grit. They’re also known for their quirky film styles and even their use of music. Their sleeper hit, O Brother, Where Art Thou’, was full of Bluegrass music that was sung by the characters. For Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen’s have re-teamed with composer T-Bone Burnett to create this wonderful soundtrack. The pairing of fantastic direction and amazing music makes this one of the most standout films of the year.
Oscar Isaac is the heart and soul (or lack thereof) of this film and his performance ranks among the best this year. Throughout the whole film, Isaac emotes with his words, his singing, and his face. As he comes across obstacle after obstacle, Llewyn looks more and more exhausted. The lighting and makeup tell you everything you need to know about what this man had endured. He looks physically and emotionally drained and you really start to feel for his character. Isaac’s best moments, however, come when he picks up his guitar and begins to sing. His voice is pleasing to the ears and the words help you better understand who his character is and why he continues to do this.
While the focus of the film is undoubtedly about Llewyn, every supporting character serves a deeper purpose. Starting with Jim and Jean, the two represent sellouts in Llewyn’s eyes, as they’ve shifted their musical focus for money. Timberlake plays a fun singer who’s given up and has decided to write catchy Pop songs. Mulligan steals her scenes as she berates Llewyn for his “stupid” decisions and lack of a life. Roland Turner represents everyone who judges folk music, without having given it a chance or listen. John Goodman, a Coen Brothers regular, excels in his short time and becomes incredibly believable with his words. Hedlund mutters a few lines of poetry, his true passion, but that’s about it. Ulysses also does a great job as a wandering cat who seems to give Llewyn some purpose.
Inside of Inside Llewyn Davis, there are many messages that speak to what our society is like and how people handle things. Llewyn’s parade is constantly being rained on by the people and world around him. His dream is to play Folk music for a living and to find himself within the music. Instead, he and his amazing music is being overshadowed by goofy Pop songs and unfair antics. Llewyn represents every artist of every kind who has the dream to make it big. He loves what he does, but a person can only take so much heartbreak and hurt. The film itself may be a metaphor for Folk music, as it might not gain critical appeal now, or ever. No matter how stacked the odds are, never lose hope and never quit doing what you love to do.
People will either love or hate this film and that saddens me. There is so much to relate to and the realisms you’ll find within the film are astounding. If you take away only one thing, it will most likely be the music. I haven’t been able to stop singing and humming along to the songs. I really found a piece of myself within Llewyn and that just goes to show how great the Coen Brothers are at creating real characters and films with a heartbeat. This is certainly one of their best films of late and it showcases the amazing talent possessed by Llewyn Davis himself, Oscar Isaac. I suspect that his phone will be ringing off the hook for the next few months, as everyone and their sister will be lining up to work with him. There isn’t too much joy to be found in this film, but there are some laughs, a greater character study and a message that you will take away. To me, those things are more important than feeling good and I’d like to think that others would agree when it comes to this truly great movie.
Inside Llewyn Davis Trailer