Thursday, February 6, 2014


The Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan) are reliably idiosyncratic filmmakers. They’ve run the gamut from the broad comedy of RAISING ARIZONA to the tripwire suspense of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN to the deeply personal A SERIOUS MAN. They write all the films they direct and have edited every one since FARGO. Their latest quirky gem is a melancholy odyssey through the folk music scene circa 1961. It opens with prickly protagonist Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaacs) finishing his set in the smoky Gaslight. He chats with the proprietor before being summoned to the stage door where a shadowy man with a grudge abruptly pummels him. The reason for the assault is not clear, but Llewyn’s response suggests he expects the attack or is at least resigned to it. He does not protest that there has been a mistake, he simply says, “It’s what I do.” And for the next ninety minutes we find out exactly what that is. He wakes up on the couch of an apartment that clearly is not his. He slips out the door, guitar case in hand, and, as the door locks behind him, the house cat darts out. Llewyn’s solo act success has proved about as elusive as the cat (whose name is the film’s most whimsical joke). When he’s not trying to retrieve the ginger tom from New York’s wintry streets and return it to his owner, Llewyn begs his manager for money, scrapes up session work, and crashes at the homes of folk singing couple Jean (Carey Mulligan) and Jim (Justin Timberlake), his sister Joy (Jeanine Serralles), or any newfound acquaintance with space. He takes a job driving an abusive jazz musician named Roland Turner (John Goodman) to Chicago, hoping, while there, to hand his record to influential manager Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham). In the end Llewyn only succeeds in being true to himself. He misses every chance due to bad luck, negligence, carelessness, or stubbornness. And despite talent and artistic integrity, he can never succeed because, as Grossman flatly states, “There’s no money in it.” Although the Coen brothers never cut Llewyn a break, they still relate to and have affection for him, and the mesmerizing Isaacs shines as their sad-eyed surrogate.

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