Barton Fink is still my favorite Coen Bros film.They had me at Blood Simple and I have only seen a consistent effort to create great visual storytelling with each project we are lucky enough to be graced with. Why this particular film is being promoted as their ‘best’ is just hype to me. Creative use of PR to gain attention to the fact that I’ve had to wait like so many others for another brilliantly birthed piece of American cinema coming from these two minds.
These artist-siblings use a kind of torturous whimsy that demonstrates time and again that they are unafraid to dig into the not-so-likable characters that most humans can be. Most humans ARE.
I LOATHE this character of Llewyn Davis. I wanted for someone to shut a door on HIM in the rain and cold of that car and simply walk away. I was so done with his narcissistic, anti-social behavior that if it were not for the brilliant acting of Oscar Isaac that made me want to watch him sing each time he did, I would have walked away from the screen. Which causes me to say this: this is my least favorite film the Coen Bros. have made. That is separate though from the fact that I feel this is yet another really good film from the Coen’s: I just did not like the protagonist of this one. At all.
So I am back to repeating that I believe the Coen Bros are one of the best reasons to go to the movies with anything they make. When it comes to the idea of ‘best’ in a large body of work over decades now, if you ARE a Coen Bros fan, I think that ‘favorite’ is a better descriptive to use. All the elements it takes to make a great film in the end has to be because they all fit well together: the music, the direction, the sets, the wardrobe, the lighting, the casting, the sound quality, the use of the camera, etc. For me, the Coen’s have ALWAYS GOTTEN IT RIGHT. And that is an enormous positive in a culture that screams out for sequels and main characters with guns in their hands. Inside Llewyn Davis gives us a fictionalized view into a tiny-but-important piece of Americana: folk-turning-into-political-pop-music, and shows that yes, there were others BEFORE Dylan took his scratchy vocals to the microphone and dominated the medium (oye- my ears are cracking at the memory of that voice of his- argh!)
As a feminist who likes to note the attention to the writing of female characters in historical retellings like this, I found Carey Mulligan’s character quite funny and acerbicly wonderful. Just the nastiness of her dumping her anger upon this Llewyn added the layer that was necessary for the audience to laugh out loud and at the same time – if you’re paying attention – recognize that the birth control pill had not yet existed. That fact alone helps us to see Carey’s character in a sympathetic light even while we all do know that “it takes two to Tango” as Llewyn reminds her. “Who cares!” I wanted to scream at him. “You need a vasectomy AND a JOB you irresponsible idiot!”
So I do recognize that even if I did not care for this film so much because of my dislike of the main character of Llewyn – (that I adore and care for domestic felines and am an activist in that regard doesn’t help my holding empathy for him, I admit) – I highly recommend this film for movie lovers with a desire to explore some really interesting territory about a period of time in American music history and culture that affected so much that goes unnoticed of what we listen to now. Many of the tunes written during those early years are reappearing as the backdrop sound for hip-hop and rap to be layered upon, while the message in the lyrics has remained fairly consistently about loss, life and simply trying to get by.
The Coen Bros do more than to just ‘get by’ though by making their films. They have become part of Americana that will be discussed and argued about for decades to come, much like the influence of the music they have showcased in this film.