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Klavan On The Culture

What Did I Miss About the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis?

January 10th, 2014 - 6:34 am

InsideLlewynDavisFirstTeaserposter1

I love the Coen brothers when they tell stories. Fargo is one of my favorite crime films. Blood Simple was great. So were No Country for Old Men and the much-improved remake of True Grit. But when the Coens leave narrative behind and go all ironic and surrealistic on me, I got to admit: I don’t get it. I thought Barton Fink was a cool attitude in search of a movie. A Serious Man was soporific. And as for their new film, Inside Llewyn Davis — currently scoring a 93% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes with critics, a 75% with human beings — my general reaction was:  Hanh?

It’s the story of a good-but-not-great folk singer (played by Oscar Isaac) in the folk singing heyday of the early ’60s. He wanders around Greenwich Village and other parts of New York being kind of an SOB to the other not-very-interesting people around him. Then he makes a pseudo-epic journey to Chicago to audition for a folk song guru. Then more stuff happens and the movie ends.

I guess the theme has something to do with the late, great Jacques Barzun’s theory that genius requires a city-full of lesser lights to bring it to fruition. That is, according to Barzun, the genius is nourished by a community of non-genius artists who lift him to greatness. The Coens are taking a moment to consider the journey of one of those other artists, a performer who will soon be rendered irrelevant by the rise of Bob Dylan. Attention must be paid to such a man, they seem to be saying. Not sure why.

The movie’s not boring, but it’s not very compelling either. And as always with this sort of Coen movie, I can’t help feeling the bros are living off irony and attitude instead of going to work making the sort of film they’re capable of. Having said that, I should add that several people I respect thought this was a great picture. And I myself respect the Coens’ work enough to think that maybe I missed something.

Maybe.

Watch the trailer on the next page.

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Top Rated Comments   
And I myself respect the Coens’ work enough to think that maybe I missed something.

Maybe.


That you care might make you the atypical movie viewer. People want to be entertained.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (7)
All Comments   (7)
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--arch-libertarians, them Coen Bros. It was obvious from the get-go, Blood Simple and Raising Arizona, these guys are the vanguard of the no-letariat. That would be nice in any case, but gahhh, the talent, the concepts, the ultra-dark human comedy --the films are a class unto themselves.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
I see this as another quintessentially nostalgic movie for Jews. The folk music scene in New York City...so beloved by the Red Diaper crowd.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
As someone who grew up attending anti-Soviet demonstrations, I resent the implication that Communist = Jewish.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
As I understand it this film is about a failed artist. Why should it be of interest to you? No reason. But artists, including artists as fabulously successful as the Coens are interested in failed artists, their brethren who didn't make it.

There's also the question of temperament. The tone of the film is melancholic. This is another marker that separates most artists, most but not all, from the general population. Most artists are more than half in love with the sweet suspension of the melancholic state. And the ineffectiveness of being in that state. The Coens certainly are. You were probably feeling impatience through much of the film. C'mon, get on with it. Whereas the Coens were taking a good long wallow in lostness and loserdom.

Don't worry. They'll make up for it in their next film, which will be furiously engaged with the real, and relevant to boot.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
A Serious Man was soporific? Possibly. It could have been shorter. But I loved the fact that our physicist teacher couldn't figure out the simplest realities of existing as a human, and that as he went higher and higher up the chain of rabbi advisers (that is, closer to God), the rabbis became weirder and less comprehensible.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree, Lewis, I thought Serious Man, though imperfect, had some great scenes and ideas in it. Sy Ableman was a real gem (boy, do we all know that guy), and, as you noted, the trip through the various rabbis was a highpoint, worth the whole film, in my opinion. A mess of a Coen Bros film is still better than most of what Hollywood can do on a good day.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
And I myself respect the Coens’ work enough to think that maybe I missed something.

Maybe.


That you care might make you the atypical movie viewer. People want to be entertained.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
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