I have at least two Coen Brothers films on my "all time" list, and another two that aren't too far from it. I've always enjoyed how these guys shift from making epic, intense films like "No Country For Old Men" or "Fargo" to more subtle, quieter, occasionally squirm-inducing films such as "A Serious Man" and the underrated "Burn After Reading". I had thought from the reviews I'd read that the new "INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS" would be more akin to the former, but instead it's far more like the latter, and perhaps a significant notch down from the aforementioned to boot. The film I just watched wasn't quite the masterpiece that, say, the New York Times and others said it was, and I'm a little perplexed by some of their choices in this one, which tend toward the abstract, the unsaid and the lengthened-out. The result is, truth be told, a little boring.
I guess boring's better than lame, which is what I thought both "Barton Fink" and especially "The Big Lebowski" were, but I feel like "Inside Llewyn Davis", while good, is full of missed opportunities to tell a gripping, intense story. My wife called it the feel-bad film of the year, and while it's not quite as much of a bummer as, say, last year's "Amour", it's pretty intensely dark. It concerns our titular hero, who's no hero at all. He's an angry, broke, depressed folk singer on the early (1961) Greenwich Village folk scene, just as that style of music was beginning to crystallize and subsequently become something beloved on college campuses and in coffeehouses across America for a few years. His self-sabatoge when it comes to his musical career is right in line with the Beat aesthetic that no doubt helped to berth his cultural worldview, but he's not much more successful at personal relationships, either, as evidenced by the raw hatred spewed at him by the winsome folk singer played by Carey Mulligan, who may or may not be pregnant with Davis' child. Davis bounces from couch to couch, living hand to mouth and the proverbial one day at a time, with very little in the way of goodness stumbling across his path, outside of a cat that he takes unsuccessful responsibility for.
The Coens really could have made something of a road trip that Davis takes to Chicago to try and meet with a record executive who might hold the keys to success, but so much of that 30-minute interlude fell flat for me. While everyone "loves" John Goodman, isn't it also time to admit that his schtick is more than a little played out? Here he played a portly, heroin-addict jazz musician who berates, upbraids and bullyrags Davis no end, on an interminable car trip from New York full of long and desolate freeway shots and much meaningless conversation. The verbal reticence of the car's driver, Goodman's assistant, is never explained and adds little to the story. Of course Davis' trip to Chicago doesn't go well, and of course he has to hoof it back to New York with a little less money and a lot less dignity. I just felt that the entire passage could have been so much more.
You know, when you walk out of a film with someone else, you're forced to render a snap decision on whether or not you "liked" it so as to help along the walk to the car. I instantly decided that I did, in fact, "like" this one, but also that if I had never seen it, that'd have been just dandy, too.