Sunday, September 27, 2015

Inside Llewyn Davis

Year 7, Day 270 - 9/27/15 - Movie #2,162

BEFORE: This film was really hot on premium cable about a year ago (and I think it was hot in theaters about two years ago), so I'm glad I picked it up then, because now it's nowhere to be seen.  John Goodman carries over from "The Artist", and he'll be here tomorrow as well.

THE PLOT: A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.

AFTER: Shortly before the credits, I realized that this was feeling like a Coen Brothers film - and when the credits started to roll, I realized that it was.  I guess I knew that before, and I forgot it.  The signs were all there - a crazy quest, lots of folk music, and the presence of John Goodman.  That pretty much describes several of their films that I like a lot, such as "Raising Arizona", "The Big Lebowski" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?".  But I didn't like this film as much as I like those, and I'm sort of hard-pressed to figure out why.

This is a recreation of the folk music scene in NYC from the early 1960's.  I thought perhaps this was sort of a thinly-veiled biopic of Bob Dylan, similar to "I'm Not There", or the way that "Velvet Goldmine" told the story of a Bowie-like rock singer.  But then there are clues that this character is NOT Bob Dylan, like the fact that he used to be part of a folk duo.  And then there's a hint that Bob Dylan also exists in his world, so he can't possibly also be him.  Maybe he's supposed to come from the same world, the same clubs on Bleecker St. (very sneaky, filming there, because I think that parts of that street still look quite the same as it did then)  

But to me, I just couldn't root for Llewyn Davis - for me, it was all because of the cat.  He's a proto-hipster, without a fixed residence, couch surfing through the apartments of various friends and fans.  Early in the film, he accidentally allows his hosts' cat out the apartment, and based on that, and what followed, I didn't find him to be a likable character.  But maybe he's not supposed to be.  

I'm a cat guy, I've lived with cats for most of my life, and losing another person's cat is a huge no-no.  What if he had taken his hosts' child to the park and left him there?  That would be wrong, right?  Well, to me misplacing a cat would be almost as bad.  He can't return the cat to its owners, so he carries it around with him for a while, in his hands, and even on the subway.  WTF?  Why can't he at least put the cat in a box or something?  

I don't want to talk too much about the cat, for fear of spoilers, but I'll say that I saw where this plot point was going from the get-go.  To me there are two kinds of cats, house cats and stray cats, and I doubt that either one would let a stranger pick it up and carry it around like a bag or something.  It takes YEARS to develop the kind of relationship with a cat where you can carry it for a long period of time.  My current cat won't even let me hold him for more than a few seconds.  I would just never treat an animal like this, that's all I'm saying.  

The film is really about this fictional singer, and his struggle to break out of the folk scene, sell some records, and make some money, but something is holding him back.  Is it a personal tragedy, like McConnaughey's character in "Failure to Launch", or is he just afraid to succeed, like Pacino's character in "Two for the Money"?  Or is he more like George Valentin in "The Artist", too proud to adapt to the changing entertainment scene, unable to change with the tastes of the public?  

Oddly, the first scene of the film is the same as the last - which at first gives his life a cyclical, futile nature.  After some consideration I realized that we're shown the last scene first, and the film then flashes back to show us what happened before.  I admit that the second time we see it, we have a LOT more information about Llewyn and what caused the situation he's in, but at no time did I ever feel like Llewyn was learning from his mistakes, or in the process of figuring out a way to improve his situation.  If just felt like misery upon misery, with no chance for redemption.

Plus, putting the last scene first still counts as messing with the timestream, and that's only allowable when the future of humanity depends on it...

Two of the actors from this film form a connection to "Star Wars: Episode VII" - in an ideal world, I could have watched this as Movie #2,199 right before "Star Wars".  But I messed up, and I'm still paying the price for that - there was no way to re-order my list and move this film there.  Plus, I've only got a few slots left before October, and I can't get to other films about musicians and music clubs, like "Get on Up", "Idlewild" and "CBGB" - in a few days I'll have to put this topic on hold.  But maybe that's a good thing, because I could pick up a few more films on the subject, like that one about Jimi Hendrix and the other one about Brian Wilson, if I'm lucky. 

Also starring Oscar Isaac (last seen in "The Bourne Legacy"), Carey Mulligan (last seen in "The Great Gatsby"), Justin Timberlake (last seen in "The Social Network"), Garrett Hedlund (last seen in "Troy"), Ethan Phillips (last seen in "The Island"), Max Casella (last seen in "Revolutionary Road"), Robin Bartlett (last seen in "City of Angels"), Adam Driver (last seen in "This Is Where I Leave You"), Stark Sands, Jeaninie Serralles, with a cameo from F. Murray Abraham (last seen in "The Prisoner of Second Avenue").

RATING: 5 out of 10 Merchant Marines

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