Inside Llewyn Davis sparked controversy this year when it won the Gran Prix at Cannes but was almost entirely snubbed by the Oscars. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Coen Brothers but I was very curious about such a polarising film. It always interests me when the cinema authorities can’t seem to make their minds up.
However I have to side with the Academy on this one. Inside Llewyn Davis appears to be, unapologetically, the story of a self-absorbed, untalented, selfish loser. There’s really nothing good about this character. Oscar Isaac gives a great performance and makes him as entirely unsympathetic as he is written. From the beginning to the end Llewyn is rude, presumptuous and bitter. He can’t get through a night without heckling one of his rival country music acts and has a huge victim complex when he gets beaten up for it. He’s the type of guy who loses someone else’s pet, lies about it and then shouts at them. A top class human in all respects; by about halfway through the film I was rooting for him to give up his musical career and leave for good.
The other characters aren’t hugely better, Carey Mulligan plays Jean, one half of a scrubbed up folk act that’s far more successful than Llewyn due mainly to Jean’s tight sweaters. She’s belligerent and refuses to take responsibility for her actions, even when she clearly became pregnant through her own volition. Together the two are more sour than lemon juice that went off three years ago. I’ve read that this is meant to be a “love letter to folk music”. All I can say to that is that if this is how the Coen brothers show love I sincerely hope they hate me. Their portrayal of the 1960’s folk scene is a series of ever-dingier locations filled with the most unpleasant people the world has ever known. Failure is inevitable in this world and everyone’s cynical and doomed anyway so why are they trying?
I know that I’m meant to feel sorry for Llewyn, after all he’s a struggling artist who’s best friend committed suicide, it’s just that he’s written to be such a horrible person that you can’t muster up sympathy. In fact I feel more sorry for the guy that used to have to spend time with him. This entire lack of pathos makes the film very boring. You spend all your time hoping that Llewyn will at some point have a redeeming quality or do something that doesn’t fall into the category of whining or upsetting other people. He doesn’t, and it’s an awfully long wait. By the time the final scene rolls round and Llewyn has grown so little as a character that simply repeating the opening scene is apparently an adequate ending – it feels like torture. Not only have you seen this guy be unpleasant for what feels like three hours but the Coen brothers literally rub your face in how little has happened by forcing you to sit through the same lacklustre and miserable folk performance. The production design was nice I guess.
- Entertainment: 0/5
- Artistic: 3/5
- Intellectual: 1/5