Llewyn Davis wanders from friend to friend around the Greenwich Village in search for a place to stay after his singing partner commits suicide. In his nomadic existence he gets his friend’s girlfriend Jean pregnant, who is less than pleased with the situation.
She sees Llewyn for who he is and just who he could be, a man that has no great care for anything, except perhaps a little ginger cat. Even Llewyn’s sister sees him for what he is and the fact that folk music is on the precipice of a revival is not enough to make a man get by. Even after a trip to Chicago Llewyn’s life is one that is a never ending circle of unreached potential with the film starting and ending in the same way.
This film can’t be reviewed without looking at the songs we are given the pleasure to listen to; any folk fan will appreciate the melancholic tones that whisper through the entire film. The film opens with ‘hang me, oh hang me’ which sets the tone for the entire film, and the soundtrack was recorded live on set and was gathered by songwriter and producer T Bone Burnett. For me the Coen Brothers combined with folk music creates near perfection. Unlike other films from the duo, this is a tale about a man who doesn’t really strive for money and fame, passing up the chance for royalties on a novelty hit with Jim (Justin Timberlake) so he can make a small amount of money in order to get by.
The Coen Brothers show that the true tragedy of this man and film is his inability to stay connected to people; even the title of the film and the record Llewyn creates asks what is inside of Llewyn Davis. This question goes unanswered, a possible result of his friend’s death or perhaps Llewyn is simply stuck in that rut of not being able to change. Even when asked by Bud Grossman, the man he is hoping will let him play at the Gate of Horn, Llewyn doesn’t seem to know himself.
Oscar Isaac wonderfully plays Llewyn with an air of melancholy and humour contradicting themselves so that we don’t know what is going to happen as much as he does. The viewer is kept on the periphery, sharing the question of whether Llewyn will achieve that break he needs and whether he will reach his potential. Carey Mulligan provides a performance that is on par with many of her others, the sharp tongued Jean who sees straight past Llewyn but knows that he is a man that is simply trying to get by amongst a sea of others who are striving for success like their life depends on it.
It must be said that while this film seems to be initially all about the failure of one man who is navigating the folk scene of Greenwich village in the winter of ‘61, if you dig a little deeper this is a film about the struggle that many musicians end up having to face in order to ‘make it’. A truly wonderful film that captures Llewyn’s humanity perfectly, this is a film that shouldn’t be missed and for me that has been wrongly left out this awards season, though in some way that matches up with the life of Llewyn Davis himself.