I tweeted last night that when it plays before a crowd, Inside Llewyn Davis is a pellet dropped into water. The depth and the delight is in the vegetable dye that spreads out and sinks in, and though obviously emanating from the pellet, da coolness is in the mixture. The Coen Brothers period film, inspired and exquisitely made as it obviously is, is the trigger but not the all of it. And therefore some (like a big-league critic who sat near me last night) are going to sit down with it and say, “Wait…that’s it?”
And that won’t be because like-minded sorts aren’t sharp or open enough. A few knowledgable people of some influence are going to say “Well…I don’t think it quite gets there.” There’s going to be a bit of a backlash. Which always happens whenever a strong film appears that doesn’t precisely spell itself out. And such films are always the ones that expand and deepen and touch bottom over time. Or within hours after your first viewing…whatever.
All I know is that I can’t wait to see Inside Llewyn Davis two or three more times. I’m seriously thinking about catching it again tomorrow, only I can’t because Monday’s 2:15 pm Salle du Soixantieme screening conflicts with the Inside Llewyn Davis round tables, which I have to attend.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a sardonically funny American art film about frustration and wintry despair and the Sisyphusian struggle of a folk singer who’s talented and who cares about his art but isn’t good or lucky enough to make it to the next level, and the week-long journey he goes through that takes him from a kind of semi-resigned “fuck me” slumber mentality to an “oh, to hell with it…this shit is infuriating…I hate folk music!” feeling. Bob Dylan, trust me, is going to love this thing — he’s going to effing swear by it.
Anybody who knows enough about period films knows you can’t replicate or reanimate the past — you can only riff on it, as the Coens do, and somehow create a parallel past of your own. Variety‘s Scott Foundas has written that “as they did with the 1940s Hollywood setting of Barton Fink, the Coens have again taken a real time and place and freely made it their own, drawing on actual persons and events for inspiration, but binding themselves only to their own bountiful imaginations. The result is a movie that neatly avoids the problems endemic to most period movies — and biopics in particular — in favor of a playful, evocatively subjective reality.”
I love this portion of Peter Bradshaw’s Guardian review:
“Cannes audiences just heard a clean, hard crack: the sound of the Coen brothers hitting one out of the park. Their new film is brilliantly written, terrifically acted, superbly designed and shot; it’s a sweet, sad, funny picture about the lost world of folk music which effortlessly immerses us in the period.
“The musical interludes are stunningly achieved: a pastiche chart single about President Kennedy and the moon mission brought the crowd I was among close to bopping in the aisles. This has something of Woody Allen movies like Sweet and Lowdown and Broadway Danny Rose; there’s a playful allusion to Breakfast at Tiffany‘s and even a weird casting echo of Walter Salles‘ On the Road — and this movie is incidentally everything that dull film wasn’t. But it is through-and-through a Coen brothers film, as pungent as hot black coffee.”
As Oscar Isaac’s titular character says to Carey Mulligan‘s pregnant, relentlessly pissed-off folk singer at one point, “Have you ever heard the expression ‘it takes two to tango’?” There is a lot of tango-ing going on around Cannes this morning. But don’t expect Inside Llewyn Davis to lift you up like a father lifts a baby and show you all the steps. You’ll have to supply some of your own.