“Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013) starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, & Justin Timberlake

Follow a week in the life of a young folk singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Guitar in tow, huddled against the unforgiving NYC winter, he is struggling to make it as a musician against seemingly insurmountable obstacles — some of them of his own making. -Synopsis

The cat was a nightmare. The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, “Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.” A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don’t want them to do, if anyone’s interested; I don’t know if there’s a market for that. -Ethan Coen

This Coen brothers movie (streaming free on Amazon) is a vehicle for Oscar Isaac, who acts (and sings) in the title role. I saw it for the 1st time last week and liked it a LOT! The Coens are experts at casting, creating different worlds, and setting mood/tone in their movies. Llewyn (handsome/talented) is NOT a V likeable character, which could be hurting his music career and his friendships. He can’t even afford a Winter coat- awww. Recently, he has been sleeping on friends’ couches or in his sister’s humble home. Mitch (Ethan Phillips) and Lillian (Robin Bartlett) Gorfein are an older/academic couple who work at Columbia; their cat follows Llewyn out of their spacious UWS apt. Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan w/ long dark hair) are a married couple/musical duo. A promising young singer in the Army, Troy Nelson (Stark Sands), has taken their couch. Also, Jean is V angry/hostile (she has a reason to be so).

Llewyn Davis: If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song.

Joel and Ethan Coen named a character Al Cody (AKA Arthur Milgrom) as an homage to a veteran Minnesota documentary filmmaker- Al Milgrom. The Coens are from the Twin Cities area and looked up to Milgrom, who also founded a film fest. Llewyn (desperate for a break/money) gets a chance to record a song (Please Mr. Kennedy) w/ Jim and Al Cody (Adam Driver in a cowboy hat w/ short hair). Driver’s role is small, BUT it’s memorable. He sings (the funny parts of the song), says “meow” (just like a cat), and gives Llewyn his couch for the night. At an interview for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Isaac said that he watched tapes of actors (when the Coens asked his advice) and liked Driver’s audition. “He owes me his career,” Isaac joked; Driver laughed and replied w/ “thanks.” The actors are friends and attended Julliard, though Isaac graduated before Driver.

Jean: Everything you touch turns to shit, you’re like King Midas’ idiot brother.

Through Al’s friend, Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund- w/ James Dean vibes), Llewyn gets a ride to Chicago. In the backseat is an older jazz musician, Roland Turner (John Goodman), who is annoyingly chatty, offensive, yet also funny. Goodman is the type of character actor who always adds to whatever movie he does. Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham) is based on Albert Grossman, who ran the Gate of Horn club in Chicago; he also managed Bob Dylan, Peter Paul & Mary, and Janis Joplin). Llewyn sings for Grossman (re: Henry VIII and Jane Seymour); it’s a mournful song. The singing voice of Mike (Llewyn’s former music partner) is Marcus Mumford of the band Mumford & Sons. He’s now married to Mulligan; I wonder IF they met while working on this movie. Mulligan and Hedlund co-starred in Mudbound (2017) where they BOTH do a great job; check that out soon.

I think they have a common theme, even though they work in completely different ways. Specificity of story – so clear with what it is they’re after – and different opinions about how to get there. They’re kind of unanimous in that way. Just to see the Coens at the state they are in with their careers, and how they still have this relentless pursuit to to tell the best version possible, and do all their homework – it’s incredible to have been able to witness. -Driver, on working w/ the Coens

[1] The performances are certainly a major plus with Isaac doing a marvelous job in the lead role. I really loved the way he brought this character to life and especially the various moods that he goes through. This includes some very dark moments in the film but also some pretty funny ones where his mouth gets him into trouble.

[2] The ten or so minutes in that car are some of the very best. Goodman taunts and pokes (literally, using a cane) Llewyn, calling him Elwyn. He is absolutely brutal and yet hilarious. 

[3] For lead actor Oscar Isaac, this movie should be a deal-breaker in landing crucial parts in films for many years to come. Of course, he owes so much here not only to his talent, but also to his writer-director duo. The Coens are the absolute masters right now in character creation (and casting the perfect people for those characters)…

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

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