Wednesday, January 08, 2014
I love the Coen Brothers.
I love that era of time and music.
There wasn’t a film that disappointed me more last year than this one. The Coen Brothers are known for their detachment, but there’s usually a sly humor underneath, and an affection for their characters. Not here. The main character, Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) was just a dick. Every time I felt the least bit sorry for him, every time I had the slightest urge to root for him he would do some other schmucky thing. And after awhile I so stopped caring.
Add to that, paint dries faster than this moody depressing movie.
Reading the reviews, I swear I didn’t see the same picture. Among the platitudes: “a tuneful wake intended to arouse us from our slumber to desires worth remembering”, The Coen brothers have crafted another unique period piece,” “The broad, black humor of the Coens' early features has ripened over the years into a sadder, more philosophical brand of comedy”, “A cold, cruel wind cuts through every frame of this brilliant, mysterious and lyrical black comedy” and my favorite: “This is one of the finest works by -- let's just call it -- the most consistently innovative, versatile and thrilling American filmmakers of the last quarter-century.” Are they fucking kidding?!
Here’s what I think: The Coen Brothers are laughing at all of them. And if they are then I applaud them. That’s the kind of detached delicious black humor I’ve come to admire from the creators of FARGO, BLOOD SIMPLE, RAISING ARIZONA, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, and others. Maybe they said, “Hey, just for fun, let’s make an incredibly self-indulgent pointless film and see how many critics find meaning in it and crown us the most thrilling American filmmakers of the last quarter-century.”
Were that the case, suddenly the movie would make sense.
I was listening to an Entertainment Weekly film critic fawn all over this movie recently. He went on and on about how the Coen Brothers really captured the time period. To him this movie felt exactly like 1961. Authentic in every detail. I checked and this film critic was 2 years-old in 1961. Meanwhile, Dave Von Ronk’s wife (the movie was loosely based on his life) said the film was inaccurate from the people involved to the fixtures in the bar. Still, she obviously didn’t know the world like the 2 year-old cinema expert.
As usual there is a disconnect between film critics and the public. In Rotten Tomatoes the film scores a 93% with reviewers and only a 75% with us rabble.
I’ll be very interested to read your comments today. I’m sure many of you will rally to the film’s defense. This is just another case where I’m too shallow and pedestrian to appreciate genius. There could be a thousand of you (and I hope there is, I could always use the traffic) and I still won’t change my mind. But I wonder how many others are going to say, “Thank heavens. It wasn’t just me. This was the Emperor’s New Clothes.”
The early 1960’s Greenwich Village folk scene was a magical time of creativity and exploration. Not every folk singer made it, not every story had a happy ending, but there was an energy that inspired many and ultimately resulted in a lot of music that shaped a generation. The Coen Brothers weren’t sure whether to celebrate it, mock it, or debunk it.
Oh, and fair warning: INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is not for cat lovers.
Tomorrow: a movie I absolutely loved. Hint: It's brimming with humanity and it's not even about a real person.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM