Cannes 2013: Coens' 'Inside Llewyn Davis' is Charming Folk Perfection
by Alex Billington
May 19, 2013
Ah yes, the Coen Brothers. We all know them. We all love them. They've made some of finest films cinema has to offer. But what if they did something a bit different? Inside Llewyn Davis, while unquestionably a Coen Brothers film, is a breath of fresh air from the filmmaker brothers. It's not as dark or deeply moving as No Country for Old Men, nor is it at overly joyful as Burn After Reading, it falls somewhere inbetween, an engrossing exploration of a musician named Llewyn Davis living in New York in the 1960s. It's a perfect period piece and a dark, but fun, earnest, entertaining film that I thoroughly enjoyed every last second of.
Like with all Coen Brothers films, there isn't a straightforward plot we get to follow, instead it's a small character piece and slice-of-life portrait of a particular person in a particular time. Inside Llewyn Davis follows actor Oscar Isaac, in a role of a lifetime, playing Llewyn Davis, a folk singer/musician just looking to make money in the entertainment industry to get by. They combine some mature and brilliantly written humor with elements of a tragedy and the tough life that a guy like this lives. There's an orange-colored cat that becomes a focal point for the entire film, with every interaction involving the cat occurring naturally in the story but evoking an impressive amount of joy from watch this feline character mess with Llewyn's life.
Using the word "charming" to describe Inside Llewyn Davis seems like an odd choice, but it was one of the best adjectives that kept coming to mind to describe my feelings while watching the film. Charming to watch, pleasant to your heart and soul, charming characters, there's just a charm to it that should leave a smirk or goofy smile on your face throughout. It's a lovely film, even with the washed out look and perfect period setting, even with the shitty situations and amusing characters that Davis encounters, it's such a joy to watch and the kind of film I will happily revisit even more than many of the other Coens' films I admire.
While the cast all around is excellent, not unexpected for the Coens, it is Oscar Isaac in particular who truly deserves the acclaim. If he's not nominated for an Oscar this year, it will be a shame. Not only does he play the nuances and imperfect quirks of Llewyn Davis to perfection, he's also a musician (who played all of his songs live) that is as talented as many people who play music for a living. His songs and voice are soothing and never grating, reminding me a bit of the Searching for Sugar Man doc. The music elevates the overall experience, used similarly to the way great musicals use song and lyrics to progress the story and characters.
Earlier this year the Sundance Film Festival, I admitted that could not stop smiling during every second of Before Midnight, a rare perfect film. I had a similar experience with Inside Llewyn Davis, where I couldn't stop smiling for the first and last 15 minutes. As with any Coen Brothers film, repeat viewings and further reflection are necessary for deeper interpretation, and that's the case here. I'm already anxious for another viewing, to be charmed all over again. Many of the scenes and interactions weigh so much on the reality of musicians in this world and what they go through just to express their voice. Nothing but love for this film.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 9 out of 10