I don’t think I have been more wrong or had such a wildly different reaction to a film, than I did seeing “Inside Llewyn Davis” for the second time. The first time I wrote “I was bitterly disappointed.” But this time I laughed my way through it and was enchanted! I couldn’t believe it! I had a blast! I found it uplifting! I had a marvelous time this second time, because almost unlike any film I’ve ever seen I couldn’t stop thinking about it and went back to see it AGAIN! And I loved it!
The first time I saw it was at a jam-packed critics’ screening in a too-small Soho screening room. And no one laughed. Except at John Goodman. Critics don’t react. But this second, paying audience(including myself) roared with approval. It was a very transformative experience.
This time I just LOVED it, and I got what the Coen Bros. were trying to do with it, which is to depict grief in show business. with a small “b”.
It didn’t really register that Llewyn played brilliantly by Oscar Isaac, is still reeling from the death of his beloved singing partner, a guy, who threw himself off of the George Washington Bridge. John Goodman’s character reacts the most violently to that statement of fact. His drugged out jazz musician says “He jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge? Who does that? You jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.” And the audience roared.
And Llewyn cringed. He’s just full of unexpressed pain in the tragedy that has enveloped his life and him left so lonely. You get the impression this time that he depended on his late partner for everything. He brought harmony, more than just vocally into his life.
So Llewyn’s violent reaction when a friend, a woman(played perfectly by Robin Bartlett) starts harmonizing with him and he explodes at her and ruins a perfectly nice dinner party, we now see that it’s because it’s his late partners’ lines and harmonies that she’s filling in. Now wonder he exploded at her!
And this time, my heart just went out from the get-go to Llewyn. Oscar Isaac’s quiet power, the charisma of his pained dark eyes and his sad, sad solo singing…well, it’s heart-breaking.
The Coens have decided to explore failure and also grief in all its’ aspects, as it pertains to the Greenwich Village Folk scene of the early ’60s. And besides by blowing up at nearly every one he meets(he’s got a mean streak and a temper), his sadness is expressed in his singing. Like in the opening number “Hang Me, O Hang Me”. It really was about his lost partner’s death. And it immediately involved me. Now that I knew that that’s what this film is about.
He pours his heart out in a singing audition in an empty nightclub in Chicago that he has hitchhiked to in a snowstorm(with a cat). He sings an English ballad a very sad song indeed about “Queen Jane” to a stone-faced, cadaverous night club owner (F.Murray Abraham) who reacts by saying “There’s not much money in this.” And he advises him to “get back with your partner.” Llewyn looks like he’s about to tell him that his partner just committed suicide, but chooses not to and just says, “Yeah, right.”
And he has no winter coat, and his falling-apart shoes are soaked through to the socks. And it continues to snow in Chicago. Everything in Llewyn’s life is winter and snow. Bleak, bleak, bleak. The Coens are keeping it really real.
But I saw it this time as a joyous tribute to survival even if EVERYthing isn’t going your way. NObody has it as bad as Llewyn does in this movie. It’s Schadenfreude for the audience in spades. I thought of the book of Job. And yes, the Coens are torturing him, their main character, as they often torture their protagonists.
In a normal movie about a singer, he would succeed through his music at the end. But that moment never comes.
Prepared for that, I braced myself for the unnerving ending, and this time it didn’t shock with its’ brevity or annoy me, it left me singing “Inside Llewyn Davis” praises for being startlingly original and as unique a piece of American film-making as I’ve ever seen
Bravos to all involved! It just is a film that you HAVE to see TWICE! At least! And I’m running out to get the sound track album! And all the singing and playing was done live by Oscar Isaac and co. under the expert tutelage of T-Bone Burnett. I bet T-Bone wins a Golden Globe in a couple of weeks for Best Music.
I wish the Best Actor race wasn’t so cruelly crowded with vets and heavyweights giving the performances of their careers. Oscar Isaac should be nominated for Best Actor for his indelible, unforgettable performance. I can’t wait til I see it again!