Follow a week in the life of a young folk singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Guitar in tow, huddled against the unforgiving New York winter, he is struggling to make it as a musician against seemingly insurmountable obstacles -- some of them of his own making. Written by
Folk singers, however, have criticised the film for misrepresenting the friendliness of the Village folk scene of the time. Terri Thal, Dave Van Ronk's ex-wife, said, "I didn't expect it to be almost unrecognisable as the folk-music world of the early 1960s." Suzanne Vega said "I feel they took a vibrant, crackling, competitive, romantic, communal, crazy, drunken, brawling scene and crumpled it into a slow brown sad movie." The film was also criticised for the fact that, although it was to some extent based on the memoir of Dave Van Ronk, the film portrayed a character very much at odds with the real Van Ronk, usually described as a "nice guy". However, at a press interview before the film was premiered at Cannes, the Coens had stated that the character itself was very much an original creation, and that the music was the major influence they'd drawn from Van Ronk. See more »
Despite being set in 1961, Llewyn passes a poster for Disney's "The Incredible Journey" which was released in 1963. See more »
There have been movies made about musicians, both real and imagined, from End of the Century through I'm Not There, taking in The Future is Unwritten and A Mighty Wind. We've had almost every conceivable approach, from straight-up documentary through imagined version of events as well as completely invented bands, singers, songs, and concerts. Yet, I don't think that anyone has ever managed to do what the Coen Brothers have produced with this tragic, comedic, touching piece.
Which is to essentially transport you into the grooves of an LP, Inside Llewyn Davies, and bring you a beautifully realised portrayal of the eponymous hero as he trudges his weary way through the greys and greens of Greenwich Village in a cold New York. And it is so reminiscent of the experience of listening to your favourite vinyl album from track one, side one to the final track of side two, whilst curling up on the couch with a cat in your lap, listening to a selection of melodic, melancholic, traditional, and new folk music.
The music binds this movie together and Oscar Issac inhabits the title role in a world-weary way that aches with ennui and longs for something never expressed. We follow his tramping travails through a range of vignettes that build subtly towards creating a quite compelling picture of the man behind the music. He sometimes does what we expect and at other junctures, veers off in a mad new direction. There is little explanation for any of the decisions that he does, or doesn't, take. He's searching without any clear idea of the quest.
Along the way, we meet a wonderfully diverse bunch of supporting characters, from the biting Jean, acerbic tongue and acid looks, through the snoring bully Roland Turner and his valet Johnny Five, as well as Mitch and Lilian, the Upper West posh couple, but especially Ulysses, our hero's apparent companion over the week (or was s/he?). They all offer opportunities to understand Davies' psyche slightly more, albeit admitting that not even he appears to be fully cognisant himself.
It's a lovely looking film, beautifully shot and much more enjoyable that I would have believed possible from watching the trailer previously. T Bone Burnett has done a sterling job on the soundtrack, it's so affecting and the way that the songs are all allowed to play out saw the audience in the cinema in which I saw this mainly remaining seated through the end credits as well. Which brings me back to the vinyl album sensation. You don't pick up the needle when your favorite record is playing the final track, because you want to get on with something else instead. No. You let it run right to the end of the groove and then your heart fills with an equal mixture of pleasure and joy, sorrow and sighs, as the last bars fade to quiet and all that's gone before becomes a memory that's so strong and so addictive that you want to turn it over and put the needle back into the groove all over again.
This movie is precisely like that sensation and I loved it, from first frame to last. A quiet understated tragi-comedy, dark in places, and shadowy in others, but with a humanity and a compassion that you cannot avert our gaze from. Hell, it's even got a coda of a scene to be dealing with, which at the end takes your mind back to the start of the production and forces one to reexamine what has just passed before your eyes. Recommended.
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