Monday, 3 February 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis: Flippin' Brilliant

Yesterday, in a rare moment of connection with the Zeitgeist, I accompanied Mrs N to the kinema to see a new movie - the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis. Such has been the publicity blitz around its release that I'm sure you know what this is about - a week in the life of a folk singer in Greenwich Village in 1961 - and that the reviews have been mixed, but with quite a few unmitigated raves. Well, as far as I am concerned, the raves are right - Inside Llewyn Davis is flippin' brilliant. I stumbled out of the cinema in the kind of blissful state I remember from my cinema-haunting student days after I'd seen something really really good - and in fact feeling much as I did after my last cinematic excursion, to The Artist. I should get out more.
   What's so great about Inside Llewyn D? Well, the little-know Oscar Isaac, who plays Llewyn, acts and sings brilliantly, has great presence and is clearly going to be a huge star. John Goodman, Carey Mulligan and yes Justin Timberlake also give cherishable performances, and the minor parts are, as ever with the Coens, brilliantly cast. The film is cleverly structured and scripted, looks just perfect for its time and place (the Greenwich village exteriors simply are the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan), the music is spot-on, and the Brothers manage to make you care for a guy who can be thoroughly obnoxious and  is aptly described at one point as 'King Midas's idiot brother' - everything he touched turns to ordure.
  Like all the best Coen Brothers films, Inside takes you on a journey, one where you never know quite where you are or where you're going to be next, but you don't want to miss a minute - the polar opposite of so many films, novels, artworks etc, which take you on a guided stroll around a corner of a world you already know too well. I think this is because the Coen brothers' imagination is so entirely cinematic - there seems to be no other art form lurking under the surface, no sense of adaptation, only of creation.  (On the other hand, I wish they'd make a movie of Charles Portis's The Dog of the South - they've already done True Grit, and Dog of the S has their names all over it.) 
 Oh and I forgot to mention - Inside Llewyn Davis is also very, very funny.
  'Where's its scrotum, Llewyn? Where's its scrotum?'
  You have, of course, to be there...


  1. Oh dear. We saw it last week and came out much less enthusiastic. The ailurophile in the missus always leads to nasty viceral reactions to abandoned or mistreated cats and I never did get scrotum jokes. I enjoyed the first third, but they lost me on the road to Chicago.

    But Nige, a question. Do you think the Coen Brothers intentionally made most of the characters unlikeable and morally challenged as a counterpoint to their singing like angels ? Was there a point there or am I just getting too old?

  2. Oh yes I think there's something in that Peter - it was very striking how many of them were transformed as soon as they opened their mouths to sing (Llewyn most of all). There's also - as ever with the Coens - a wonderful range of fascinating facial ugliness on display among the minor characters...

  3. Thanks. As a bit of a political wonk, I have to be careful about finding blunt messages that validate my prejudices in subtle "multi-levelled" (eww!) art. Although I suspect there are many fellow-travellers who saw a message of dirty ol' capitalism stifling artistic creativity. Not to mention tiresomely knocked-up women and bitch siblings who won't release the inheritance on the hair-splitting grounds that the old coot isn't dead yet. :-)

    I did think the portayal of the well-off academic couple who forgave all manner of outrage on the grounds that he was rebelling against the system or whatever was brilliant. Redolent of Wolfe's takedown of Bernstein and the Black Panthers.

    Anyway, in light of the film and Seeger's passing, I thought you might find this timely.

  4. Thanks Peter - that's a brilliant bit of Lehrer! And new to me.
    The ghost of Seeger hovers over A Might Wind too - love that film...