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Inside Llewyn Davis

by Louise Adams
Tuesday Mar 25, 2014
Inside Llewyn Davis

If you like marmalade cats (mine is snoozing on the mouse as I write this) or if you ever want to be happy again, don't see the Coen Brothers' flashback film "Inside Llewyn Davis," a miserable week in the wretched life of a failed folk singer.

Oscar Isaac has the double-threat chops to perform the titular troubadour, who sings he is "so hungry I could hide behind a straw" and couch-surfs around 1961 Manhattan while trying to get noticed at the Gaslight Café in Greenwich Village.

Bedraggled Davis used to be part of a duo, and, as his solo album tanks, must take session work for others, including for Justin Timberlake's clean-cut Jim and his "Please, Mr. Kennedy, don't shoot me into outer space" novelty ditty.

"If it’s never been new and it never got old, it’s a folk song."

Davis and unfortunate feline also travel to snowy Chicago with heroin-addicted Santeria practitioner Roland Turner (bowl-cut Coen stalwart John Goodman) where the seasoned jazz practitioner scoffs at the young man: "Folk singer? I thought you were a musician." Gate of Horn club manager Bud Grossman (based on the real Albert Grossman, played appropriately jaded by F. Murray Abraham) adds, after a poignant Davis ballad, "I don't see a lot of money here."

The film was inspired by folk phenom Dave "The Mayor of MacDougal Street" Van Ronk, says the single special DVD feature "Inside 'Inside Llewyn Davis,'" and is set in "a less-plowed furrow, in between the glory days of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and when the scene became dominated by Bob Dylan" (briefly seen at the end). The featurette mostly focuses on the T Bone Burnett-curated, live-performed musical score. He aptly notes that "recorded music is to the U.S. as wine is to France," with each region producing a distinct product and flavor.

Isaac likens his character to Buster Keaton, resilient amidst an existential crisis, eliciting "laughter of recognition" (not for some cats). Burnett wanted to produce this era's output because it's "a crucial American story," adding "if it's never been new and it never got old, it's a folk song."

"Inside Llewyn Davis"

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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