Wednesday, January 08, 2014

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS: My review

I don’t care how many film critics bestow how many awards on INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS -- I thought it was a bleak, bloodless, soulless, awful motion picture. And…

I love the Coen Brothers.

And...

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.

To be fair, along the way there are fun moments, but they’re so fleeting, and they only remind you of how much you’re missing in a good Coen Brothers movie. John Goodman is a standout. Wait till the movie is on HBO. Fast forward past the first six hours and watch his (essentially stand-alone) segment.

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.

But they certainly didn’t treat it with affection.  For example: they present a husband-wife singing team, Jim & Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan). There really was a husband-wife singing team named Jim & Jean. Jean Ray has since passed away. In the movie Jean fucks around on her husband, is a bitch, and of course the real Jean can’t defend herself. Is tarnishing someone's reputation just another example of “brilliant, mysterious and lyrical black comedy?” Or is it mean-spirited and cruel?

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.

90 comments:

Paul B said...

Interesting, Mark Rothman also loves the Coen brothers, loves the period and the music, and absolutely detested the film. Must be something in the film antithetical to TV comedy writers.

Mike said...

Agree with you completely. But I feel an even bigger disconnect with critics over their insane over fawning of "American Hustle", which is a 3 star film at best. I think "Philomena" is far better in every way than both. Dame Judi Dench gives a terrific performance and that film made me cry, laugh, and feel, you know what films are supposed to do, or so I thought.

Jim S said...

Ken,

I feel your, if not pain then boredom. I also think the Coen Brothers have done great work. But I'll be damned if I'm going to ever watch "A Serious Man" or "The Man Who Wasn't There" ever again. Not when I can watch reruns of Justified or Breaking Bad.

On Friday, I asked the question of was there stuff that you didn't get that other loved. It was brought on for all the love of Community. I understand that it's a smart show, but it doesn't do it for me.

Not every movie is a home run for anybody. The Coen Brothers make inexpensive movies. There hit to miss ratio is pretty good. Simply put, they can be indulged. Look at Disney, they spent $250 million a piece on John Carter and The Lone Ranger, lost their shirt on both cases, but they're still looking for that billion dollar hit. Given that mindset, I can live with the occasional Coen Brothers movie that I don't like as long as I get Raising Arizona or True Grit or No Country for Old Men.

Murray said...

Many folks have drunk the "Coen Brothers' Kool-Aid" and will adore, in the smug terms usually reserved for wine snobs, any film they make.

For me, they are wildly erratic. When I watch a Coen Bros film, it's like watching a time bomb attached to a mystery sack. I sit, half-wincing, waiting to find out if the explosion will cover me in happy, glittering confetti or putrid manure.

bill said...

Well, I was one of the few that loved the Big Lebowski when it first came out, a film that received similar pans when it came out and few people understood it. The same was said: people couldn't believe that the makers of Fargo would do a stupid stoner farce. Now, of course, the reception to the movie is much different.

I think a similar thing will happen to this movie. I particularly liked it because I was a guitar student of Dave Van Ronk and I thought the actor playing him captured his guitar style well and it was great hearing Dave's repertoire.

My guess is that Inside Llewyn Davis will have its own "re-evalution" just as the Big Lebowski did.

gottacook said...

Setting some kind of prior restriction to work within, which always makes creative work easier than when you have (the equivalent of) a blank canvas, may be all the Coen brothers are up to here. In this case, perhaps the self-imposed condition was "Can we make an engaging film about someone who's so unlikable that we never develop sympathy for him?"

(Haven't seen it yet.)

Ken, what did you think of Barton Fink, another Coen film about a frustrated creative artist? I loved it, but I can surely see how someone might call Fink an "incredibly self-indulgent pointless film" as well as "mean-spirited and cruel," despite Barton being somewhat more sympathetic than Llewyn as you describe him.

IchabodCrane said...

I love the look, the sound of this movie...technically wonderful. Given that, the "dickieness" of the main character sucks the life out of this film. I want to like the main character, to pull for him. There were obvious points where Llewyn could have a single decision and won us over. Punch him again.

Tom Swofford said...

@ bill:

Few people could understand "The Big Lebowski" when it came out? Come on. I thought it was a wonderful movie, but to say that others didn't like it because they didn't "get" it is the sort of smug uptake on movies that you see more often from the professional critics.

Murry's analogy is pretty accurate for me. Some of my favorite movies have been made by the Coens, and others (like Barton Fink) leave me cold. I "get" the movie just fine; I just don't like it.

Ed N. said...

I agree with you as well for all the reasons you said, but I wonder if they hadn't had him carry a cat for the first 30 minutes of the movie I might have felt different, for I am a cat lover.

I heard that women haven't liked Raising Arizona because children were put in jeopardy. I didn't have a problem with that, but a cat in jeopardy? I did.

slgc said...

I'm generally not a big fan of the Coen brothers, so Inside Llewyn Davis did nothing to change my mind about that. I thought that Oscar Isaac was terrific, but found that overall the film was a big yawn.

My husband has a stronger dislike of the film - he hasn't forgiven me yet for dragging him to see it.

Mike said...

In my interpretation, the dickishness of Llewyn Davis was the point. It was the study of a character trapped in a hell of his own making, sabotaging his own every move within it and his own attempts at escaping it.

But setting it in the "magical time of creativity and exploration" was deliberate too--does it really bother you so much to see a suggestion that even those times had their left-behinds who didn't look back with nostalgia? If it does, maybe that was the whole point.

William Rabkin said...

It's a tough movie to love, because for some reason the Coens decided only to make act three, leaving out everything that would have let us understand Davis and maybe even symppathize with him. There are two great relationships in his life, for instance, with his partner and with Carey Mulligan's character, and both of them are completely finished by the time the movie begins. What happened in either one? I don't know, but I've found the questions kind of haunting.

Anonymous said...

I loved this film, Ken. I'm sorry that it didn't have someone for you to root for, like a Hawkeye, a Frasier, or a Sam Malone. The movie didn't want us to love Davis and I certainly didn't. It's a week in the life of a good singer who made good music and wasn't appreciated, just like many others of that era (e.g. "Al Cody", who also had a box of unsold records stashed away). We followed his life, enjoyed his music, watched him make bad decisions, and that was the movie. There was no "deep" point and that was fine for me.

Gordon said...

For me the Coen bros are hot and cold. I love Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo and many others and hate Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy and several others. Llewyn Davis is the first one that I simply didn't care a whit about. Including the pointless John Goodman sequence. Watched the whole damn thing waiting for something other than a cat to be abandoned.

Lizbeth said...

I liked parts of the film (music and set design), but overall was bored by the character study of this dickish person. It was like watching paint dry.

I do applaud the Coen Brothers for experimenting and making films they want to make but sometimes they leave me cold. I do not understand the critic's love for this piece.

Also, I think the Coen Brothers were also trying to make the ultimate ANTI SAVE THE CAT movie. If you think about it, the protag literally saves the cat over and over again but never becomes likable. Even the cat can't save him...instead of beats, there are anti-beats...no drama, no rising tension, just random scenes of self-indulgence...

I don't necessarily want formula, but is it too much to expect actual drama from a film?

404 said...

I haven't seen this one yet, so I can't comment about it specifically, but it does seem to me that at some point the Coens lost their way. I used to relish the prospect of a new Coens movie, and they've made some of my favorites over the years. Sure, not all were great, but even their lesser films like THE HUDSUCKER PROXY were better than a lot of the drivel that was out there (and they even made MILLER'S CROSSING, which is the only gangster movie I've ever really enjoyed.)

I don't know exactly what happened, but at some point that all changed. BURN AFTER READING was boring, and A SERIOUS MAN was pretty much unwatchable. They still have some good films (TRUE GRIT was amazing, I thought) but I now no longer consider them to be must-see veiwing.

Chris said...

Yes, yes, yes, to just about everything you wrote. For about half an hour after watching this film I was convinced that there was something wrong with me for not getting it. I went over and over it and then finally realized that sometimes a movie just sucks. I think it was Jean Genet who said: "Only the mediocre are always at their best." The implication being that the truly talented sometimes fail in a spectacular way. This was an epic fail in my book, but I'd be willing to wager real money that the Academy throws it some serious love (at least in nominations). Good for the guilds for not falling for it.

Laurie Grad said...

Couldn't agree more. Did we have to hear 8 verses of the same song sung with about as much appeal as a Nordstrom's pianist? Where is Joan Baez when you need her?

Dan Ball said...

I don't think Llewyn Davis has screened here yet, even though I spent most if not all of 2013 eagerly anticipating it. But if the cat gets it...I'm not sure I'm so eager to see it, even if it is my beloved Coens. The cat looks too much like my aunt's cat from when I was little.

I could see this being like A SERIOUS MAN, though. I'm not sure how Jewish folk feel about it, but I LOVED it. I loved the religious nature of it, the tone, and pretty much everything about it. (Howard Wolowitz as a rabbi? Classic.) The ending was pretty perfect, too. It's the mystery of God all the way.

It's sad, but I feel like the Coens are done with straight-up comedies. Gone are the days of Raising Arizona, Big Lebowski, or O Brother. They're doing their film experiments/indulgences now and I think they'll just keep doing that. But who knows? They'll probably surprise us and direct one of the new Star Wars movies to replenish the war chest like they did with True Grit.

Gary West said...

FYI - Jim & Jean finally scored a mid-charter with 1968's, "It's A People World" - played by KFWB, KIMN & others.

Was looking forward to this movie since these are terrific movie makers.

Andy Ludlum said...

I agree with you Ken. I love most of the Coen Bros. films so I had high expectations -- but I left with an overwhelming feeling that the movie had no point and no characters to care about. Hearing all the reviews made me think that somehow I wasn't deep enough to "get it." I'm relieved to see so many people had the same reaction to the film.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

bill: I knew Dave van Ronk, too, only a little, and have the wonderful DVD he made before his death that's both a concert and an instruction disc. You might like to check out my friend Andy Cohen's music (http://andycohenmusic.net/) - he, like DVR, can play everything in any key without owning a capo, and he plays the most fantastic rags and blues.

The only review I had seen of this movie until now panned it as soulless. Now that I know what it's about, I'm leery of seeing it. I was, in a small way, part of the 1970s folk scene that 1960s Greenwich Village inspired. I have Jim & Jean's album, for example. I will bet that the title character is like many people I've known and still know who have struggled on the fringes of the folk scene for decades. I love some of the Coen Brothers' movies (FARGO, LEBOWSKI, OH BROTHER WHERE ART THOU) and hate others (HUDSUCKER PROXY), but on this topic I think I'd rather call my friends and see how they're doing.

wg

Tom Swofford said...

And again, this time from "anonymous" we see that theory trotted out that, if you don't like a movie that the critics are fawning over, then you lack sophistication and depth. You're implying that Ken (and by extrapolation, all people who didn't like this movie) didn't like it because there was no sterotypical cardboard cutout hero to root for, then go on to explain your theory of why it's a good movie. You aren't sophisticated just because you liked the movie, and Ken (and the rest) don't lack sophistication because they didn't like it. You can be intelligent, informed, sophisticated, erudite, and appreciative of ambiguous cinema with amoral characters and still think this is a piece of crap.

Jean said...

I've been unhappy with a lot of stuff (movies, fiction, tv) because of the lack of story. The gaps left make us fill it in -- and it can be as magical or as awful as we want it to be. When I sit down to be entertained, I want to be transported to the created world and told a story. I shouldn't have to work.

I was just reading a Josh Logan book, where he told the apocryphal story of the director being told he's over budget and 20 pages behind shooting. He rips 20 pages out of the script and declares -- well -- look we're on schedule now.

I honestly feel that's done a lot today.

And big names are skating on their reps more and more every where. One author who I've stopped reading does a lot of flashbacks in her books. I have no issue with that... but when I caught pages and pages of literal cut and paste from other books -- I'm sorry -- I paid for those other books once, and if half your new book is from your other books, your new book better be half price.

Anonymous said...

I thought the acting was great and the songs were good, but after watching it I still didn't know what the film was about or even if it had a plot. Or story. I am still not sure what if anything I'm supposed to take from it. It seems like a bunch of scenes about a depressing guy, then the movie ends as it began - does that mean his life is circular and he will always be the same miserable, self-lopathing self? Or what? And if that is what the movie's about, why should I care?
-Marv W

Doctorow said...

Honestly, I don't get why some people get so upset because other people like a movie they don't.

Marc Platt said...

The "Hip" seem to hate it The people who knew nothing about the period or the folk movement loved it These are normal peeps I talk to.

I am in the middle. I thought it really got the attitude about these musicians right on. I loved the older couple calling him "Our folk singer friend."

The soundtrack is great.

Larry said...

My favorite scene was when he was on the bus and the cat had to go, so he's trying to get the cat to use the john. Oh, wait, I'm thinking of Harry and Tonto. If you want to see a movie about a man and a cat, that's the one to see.

Never heard of this movie, but I googled Inside Desmond Llewellyn and found out that's the name of the actor who played Q in like 17 Bond movies (the Welsh actor had movie and television career spanning 50 years).

Sounds like the movie suffers from The Eight Deadly Words, "I don't care what happens to these people."

Kevin B said...

I wanted to like Inside Llewyn Davis, but by the time it mercifully ended I was pissed off. So I guess it succeeded in getting something out of me. I watched it with two friends, and we all universally hated it. So when I see all these raves in print & on TV I am completely baffled. And even those who defend it and tell me I "don't get it" and that it was "a study of loss and artistry," it doesn't matter; it was booorrrrriiiing. The freaking cat was the best part of the movie.

jbryant said...

Well, I'm looking forward to it. I certainly don't think people who hate this or any other movie are necessarily unsophisticated or lacking in depth, but an awful lot of the comments here do suggest that many people have a very traditional, meat-and-potatoes notion of what makes a "good" story, and God forbid a protagonist is "unlikable" or difficult to root for. That's fine, of course -- but if this kind of thing is really a problem for you, maybe read up on a film before you see it so you can avoid it. Even with positive reviews you should be able to read between the lines and see that's it not for you.

I'm waiting for the day when an O.J. Simpson movie comes out and people who were riveted by hundreds of hours of TV coverage and reams of newspaper articles about it dismiss a two-hour film because O.J. doesn't come off as likable.

Mike Carlin said...

Big fan of the Coens and the risks they take...

BUT I didn't like this movie.

Someone points out here that the movie ends as it began... but it doesn't... **SPOLIER ALERT**... at the ending Llewyn PREVENTS the cat from escaping his friends' apartment.

Is this supposed to suggest that he has possibly changed his whole future?

If so... I think I would rather see that OTHER movie "Outside Llewyn Davis!

Anonymous said...

I really love most Coen brothers movies, but they've struck out a couple of times with me(Read After Burning, Intolerable Cruelty, Ladykillers, Big Lebowski; they are not perfect and consistent. As different as most of their movies are from each other, they seems to make a few basic types of movies: mainstream (or as mainstream as they get) crowd pleaser-comedies (Raising Arizona, Hudsucker Proxy,Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?), grim and violent crime movies (Blood Simple, Miller's Crossing, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, True Grit), weird and vague little art-house films (Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn't There, A Serious Man, Inside Llewyn Davis)...you get the idea. Inside Llewyn Davis succeeds at what it wants to be and I liked it. LIKED. Does it deserve all the crazy praise that it's receiving? God no, but when it comes to deciding which movies I'll see, there are two things I absolutely, categorically, definitely ignore: movie critics and box-office revenue. - Jeff Clem

Ralph C said...

I've thought about watching this but, well....I'm not so sure now. I like these kinds of films, like "A Mighty Wind" and "Not Fade Away", or even like "That Thing That You Do", for example. Maybe if\when it's available through Netflix I'll take a look at it. Thanks for the head's up, everybody.

Dixon Steele said...

As a devotee of the Village folk music scene of the 60s, I really loved this movie. It captured the whole MacDougal/Bleecker coffeehouse scene perfectly. I was there, and those scenes in the Gaslite were spot-on.

The movie isn't based on Dave Van Ronk at all, but rather is about a talented folk singer/songwriter who has lost his way. Part of this is due to the suicide of his partner, the other due to his character or lack thereof. Yes, he's talented, but he's his own worse enemy.

I knew guys just like this; I still know a few.

Bravo to the Coens for pulling it off. In a movie world full of franchises and sequels, how many other filmmakers are creating films specifically for adults?

cityslkrz said...

what you said!

HUGE disappointment. 60s music in Greenwich Village? Coen Brothers?
Can't wait.

When they miss, they miss big.

Canda said...

There were many good and thoughtful comments, except the usual "let me mock everything television" by the pretentious, and obviously unhappy with his life anonymous.

Most critics fall into three categories for me. Those who feel they have to praise a film because of the filmmaker, who they don't want to piss off, and hope to have a relationship with.

Those who are sick and tired of having to review so many awful films, when anything outside of that is presented, they praise it to the skies. I can't really blame the. They must feel like they've gotten a pass out of bad-movie hell.

And, last, the very few intelligent critics who love film, and offer a unique perspective. There are only so many Pauline Kaels.

Scott Squires said...

I agree with your assessment Ken. While there were interesting character snippets it was not a fulfilling film. And yes, dull and depressing is an accurate appraisal.

When the trailer first hit it sounded great, thinking of all the potential stories and personalities during that era. The promise of an interesting story, unique characters and great music led to dismay when it became obvious that none of those subjects was to be truly explored.

Emperor’s New Clothes - unfortunately there always seem to be a few every year from critics or things like Sundance. The build up and anticipation is shattered by the reality of the actual film not living up to the hype we'd been sold on.

TDG said...

Hey, there's an idea I could go without seeing ever again. Believe it or not, film critics are pretty smart people, and if they like a film that you didn't it's probably not because it's by a "big name." Film critics shit on big-name filmmakers all the time.

Sorry, there are few things I can stand less than the notion that because you disagree about a film, the other person must be using flawed logic (rather than having, y'know, different taste).

For what it's worth, I think ILD is the Coens' best film yet. It's a story Hollywood doesn't tell very often, the story of someone who's incredibly talented and passionate about his art, and still doesn't make it, because sometimes (most of the time, actually) that's what happens.

Ted said...

The 60s New York folk scene had one big thing going for it - a lot of it was in support of the civil rights movement. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and others would regularly show up for benefit concerts. That was a big part of the scene, and it's not mentioned in this movie (or "A Mighty Wind" for that matter)

mdv1959 said...

I'd love to know how the Coen Bros. decide which films to do.

"What should we make next?"

"I don't know, we haven't made a western, let's do that."

Just based on the commercials I was on the fence about seeing this one and your review kind of confirms what I suspected, so I'll sit this one out. But if there's ever a Mount Rushmore for film makers the Coen brothers should be on it. I can't think of anyone in the past 50 years, maybe in the history of film, who have made a more eclectic, quality, body of work than these two.

Love the reviews too. Keep them coming.

Jerry said...

Yes, Yes and Yes! Thank you so much, Ken! Spot on! What an awful and pretentious piece of shit...

Anonymous said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: Have you seen any Ingmar Bergman films? Do you like his films? Which one is your favourite? I've just seen two of them, Persona and Cries and Whispers and I really, really, really tried to understand them, but It was just... awful. And the critics describe him as someone who is able to make a viewer really FEEL the drama... that is just... that HAS to be satire, otherwise I don't know what is happening... what do you think, Ken? Am I insane or just stupid? Should I give em another try? Do I need to rewatch in twenty years when I'm wiser? Help me out!

Best,
Lisa

Dale said...

Thanks for the heads up. I will avoid this film.

Terrence Moss said...

I don't know what movie any of you saw, but "Inside Llewyn Davis" was absolutely wonderful.

I'm not as big a fan of Coen brothers as many, so that probably helped me where this movie was concerned.

I can also appreciate a movie that is thin on plot, but rich in character and layered in story.

Major Tom said...

Friday Question: What's the background on John Glenn's appearance on Frasier, in particular, the monologue Senator Glenn gives at the end about the astronauts not being alone out there? Was there any hesitation or fallout?

PAUL said...

Friday Question: Ken, do you think "Almost Perfect" wasn't as successfull as it should've been, because the audiecne couldn't bond or identify as good with a woman who worked as a showrunner, as, let's say, with a parcel driver? I always wondered, what might have been the reason. I mean, not many people know how it is, to work as a psychiatrist, but maybe it's more interesting to watch?

bilge said...

In the end, the Coens are clever, but always skin deep. I don't know if they have ever pretended to be anything else. Unfortunately the music was even lousy, and the whole thing felt like second rate existentialism.

ajohnny said...

Sorry, longish comment -- I had to post it in two parts. Just wanted to leave a mishmash of things I've said about the movie in other places:

I am fiercely ambivalent about all things folk (craftsmanship? great! the whole 'simpler times'-slash-authenticity rhetoric? gag me with a spoon) and blame the Coen Brothers for (re?)arousing interest in that whole scene. O Brother! kinda grates on me; it’s well-made, but it overflows with quirk and imbues 'folk' cultural material with a sense of ‘timelessness’ I really do not appreciate. Or at least, I thought it did. After seeing Inside Llewyn Davis I feel like I should watch O Brother!… again, since it seems to clarify the Coen Bros. & co’s stance on folk music, its function, and its value (especially on a representative level).

To me, the film's overarching narrative reads like an emptied-out version of The Odyssey. Llewyn, of course, has no sense of duty, and the journey he takes is more akin to drifting than, say, purposeful travel that gets delayed by terrible shipwrecks or divine intervention. His peers are cold and unforgiving, to say the least. The 'beasts' he encounters are hilariously impotent; John Goodman's character claims to have magical powers but isn't even healthy enough to keep himself awake for long periods of time. The same goes for his mumbling driver, whose poetry is appropriately cool and 'edgy' -- in true Beat form, I guess -- but means little; his aura of mystery is pretty flimsy. The cat is the closest thing to a through-line Llewyn's life actually has, and all of their interactions are embarrassingly comical. The cat's actually named Ulysses! It was hard for me to take any of the cat scenes seriously, though, and by extension I felt as if I was actually being pushed *away* from a Homeric reading of the plot.

ajohnny said...

(continued:)

Likewise, folk is presented as an essentially meaningless genre of music (though not in a derogatory way; just in the sense that no form of music is essentially able to express 'real' emotion, 'timeless' values, etc.). Everyone in the scene bends the form to their own ends, whether they're money-hungry, cloyingly nostalgic, or just looking for a way to land a recording career. The final scene was a great payoff for all of the film's meandering, I felt, because it laid out everything the movie had, until that point, only suggested (and all of the qualms I have about the way folk music is largely received in my experience): posturing is often mistaken for authenticity, when in fact the music doesn't become 'meaningful' unless we can inject its nostalgia and narrative tropes with the stories we make and experience ourselves, every day. The autoharp woman's music was not worth beating anyone up over, but her husband was angry at Llewyn because he (the husband) cared about his wife; presumably, he loved her music because he loved her first. (I know I was laughing at her too, until her husband confronted Llewyn in the dark alley.)

That, too, is what made me appreciate Llewyn's songs. The lyrical tropes they used weren't all that creative, and they can't really be classified as 'expressive' songs seeing as Llewyn lacks the thoughtfulness to be a reflective person. (To me, the name of his record suggests his songs are just kind of clattering around inside of him, instead of giving voice to some deeper emotional life.) But they resonate so powerfully because they do actually strike a chord with events in his life, or in the lives of his loved ones. ILD isn't a rehash of O Brother! because -- as far as I remember -- the latter is just a transposition of Homer's poem to the American South; in that context, folk music affirms (reflects?) the poem's ability to tell a moving, meaningful story, and vice versa. This movie, meanwhile, is an active questioning of folk's narrative and emotional potential. Historical accuracy has little to do with it -- or with anything else I've seen by the Coen Bros., as far as I can tell.

(I think this comment should also make it clear that I enjoyed thinking about the movie way more than I liked watching it.)

Sean Yannell said...

I haven't read through all the posts, but can someone explain the beginning/end to me? Is it meant to be the same event, thus making the whole movie a "flashback" or is it supposed to be a commentary on how cyclical Llewyn's life is?
This was filled with characters that are dicks or dopey. I wouldn't say that I hated the movie. I think the saving grace for me was hearing the music in a theater. I'm not a huge folk music fan, but it really sounded good in there...so much so that I bought a few of the songs.

Kevin Bond said...

This guy is an ignorant idiot that just simply doesn't understand this film or the Coen Brothers as writers/directors. They don't make movies keeping in mind what critics are going to think of it, they try to create an experience for the audience that comes close to their view of the setting/character types. This guy doesn't understand the characters or the point of the film. He couldn't be more wrong about the cat thing also; being familiar with cats makes it mean so much more for the watcher. Also, this movie isn't a documentary about the 60's, it's an examination of what it truly means for someone to devote one's life to music. They chose the time period because it was a time when folk music was having a revival, and they wanted to explore the Greenwich Village scene by re-creating it in their own image. This "critic" shouldn't have gotten close to the film because he's embarrassing himself by spewing superficial comments on the internet. Can't believe anyone agrees with him on this.

jbryant said...

Lisa (and others): Not everything is for everybody, and critics disagree all the time about filmmakers like Bergman. I think he was one of the great geniuses of the cinema, although a career so lengthy, prolific and risk-taking is bound to result in the occasional dud.

I also agree with what TGD said -- there's no reason to think that critics are offering anything other than their honest personal opinion, no matter how it differs from one's own. And I'm really tired of this "Emperor's New Clothes" comparison that gets dragged out every time someone disagrees with the supposed critical consensus. It implies that there's an objective truth (e.g., an obviously naked emperor) that's being ignored in order to curry favor. But sometimes people just have different taste than you.

jbryant said...

Kevin Bond: Ken doesn't call himself a critic; he's offering an opinion on his blog. And believe it or not, someone can disagree with you without being an "idiot." It's only a movie, man. Anyone who has followed the Coens' career over the years knows that their work is incredibly divisive, so differing opinions shouldn't be a big shocker at this point.

Tom Swofford said...

@ Kevin Bond:

So, is Ken an idiot because he didn't like the film, or is he an idiot because he doesn't agree with you? My guess is it's closer to the latter. Do you trot out that "you're an idiot because you don't like what I like" on a fairly regular basis? That's usually the go-to response for people that attack someone on a personal level because they don't share the same viewpoint. Please note that Ken doesn't call the Coens names because they made a film he didn't like; he reserved his comments for the film. Try that tactic sometime; it makes you sound more credible.

dougR said...

I suppose my viewpoint is pretty unreliable here: I loved the film from the first couple of minutes, and all the way through. But I watched it as someone who remembers those days well, and wanted, back then, to have had the impetuousness and dickishness and musical talent of Llewyn Davis but didn't, and wanted to be part of the "folk-song-striver" scene but was a couple of years too young. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about the film (except possibly the kitty device, which seemed to stand-in for another theme the directors didn't want to explore further). I can't swear the film tracks completely with "how it was back then," but it certainly tracks with part of it that I remember, and amply draws on Dave Van Ronk's terrific autobiography "The Mayor of MacDougal Street" (wonderful binge reading, wisely and acerbically and lovingly written, worth anyone's time). Loved Carey Mulligan's bitchiness, found it oddly sympathetic; I remember what a 'man's world' it was back then, and believe me she would have had plenty to be bitchy about. So I wouldn't seriously differ with other, severly negative responses to the movie, just would say 'I didn't see THAT movie that you saw, I saw my own.'

Aaron Sheckley said...

@dougR:

And that ultimately defines a good film; because it spoke to you personally. You liked it, it doesn't matter that some others didn't, and you don't feel the need to dump on someone on a personal level because they didn't like it.

I've found that I've often enjoyed movies that I later found out were supposedly horrible. Didn't lessen my enjoyment at all, just as I've seen movies that everyone loved, and I left the theater scratching my head.

John said...

I have yet to see it, being across the Atlantic, and all, but I tend to buck trends of appreciation, so it would not surprise me if I feel the way you do about this. I'm really glad to read your opinion, though, because it also tempers my enthusiasm for the film, which usually helps the film, to be honest.

But, Ken, please. It's "2 years old", without any dashes at all (for some reason throwing dashes into this very simple grammatical construct has become extremely common of late - it's not just you) . And it's "2-year-old" with two dashes, not one.

Johnny Walker said...

I'm looking forward to watching this, but my expectations have been tapered by the reviews like this. Great period setting, great music, horrible film is generally what I'm hearing.

And the thing about Jim and Jean is precisely how I felt about Mamet's Phil Spector "I don't give a damn about the facts" thing... And the bereaved friends/relatives are still very much around to feel the pain of that one.

Greg Ehrbar said...

It was nice to see a scene that took place in the Columbia Records studios of 1961. Even the cool logo was there. Also liked when Davis' friend mentioned that he had a "Silvertone," the same Sears stereo my Dad had in 1961.

Oscar Issacs and the cast were very good, too. But Davis' character was waaaay too much like people I know or knew. Not that a film or TV show can't have an antihero (see Breaking Bad). Perhaps the film was making a statement that was elusive.

Anonymous said...

Just came back from seeing "Inside Llewyn Davis" and it was truly the most disappointing Coen Brothers film I have ever seen. I have no idea why this movie was given any - let alone so many - positive reviews. Davis is just a jerk, Jen is a bitch, Jim is almost comically naïve, and the John Goodman character is pathetic. Obviously, you don't become a Coen fan because they make lighthearted, uplifting films but geez - this was slow, boring, self-indulgent and just bad! None of the main characters were especially likeable, and frankly but the time it was half over I didn't really care if Davis (who is no cat lover!) succeeded in music, in life, or in general! The music was OK, but even it was dull. Should have gone to see anything else!! #disappointedintucsonaz

Marty Fufkin said...

From what I've read of the film, the Jim & Jean duo were entirely fictional. But then one has to wonder, why didn't the Coens change the names?! They changed their last names, sure, but that doesn't cut it. And I don't believe it was coincidence, given how much knowledge of the 60s folk scene the Coens display.

Christian Stumpf said...

I love the quote from Ken where he asks if he saw the same movie the critics did. After seeing the movie yesterday at 11:30 a.m., my wife and I were depressed all day. It didn't help that the New England weather was what the Coen's were looking for, cold rain and snow.
I was encouraged by the opening song, All Around This World, which is one covered by Jerry Garcia and performed wonderfully, but lets face it, its about a kid who's going to be hung in the morning. An hour later I thought that hanging was a good alternative to watching the end of a movie that has (a) no redemption for anyone and (b) very few people who are ever nice to each other (my wife's comment.) Llewyn is never likable; but only pitiful and pathetic. The combination of these attributes, plus his constant use of the f-- word (like a sailor, which he should have stuck with) just layered on the misery.

I was keen to see if after the reviews and the trailer (whoever put that together deserves the only academy award nomination that I can see) as they actually made me want to watch what I consider a waste of a good afternoon. Clearly I recommend this only as a rental for those who either like to wallow in depression or, maybe folk music enthusiasts. That way you can turn it off and you've only wasted $5.

tdub said...

I am still at a loss to see what anyone would find depressing about this movie, other than the fact it was shut out of many deserving awards. I don't crave happy endings, especially for narcissists like Llewyn. It was a tale of just desserts. Beautifuly acted, impeccable cinematography, great curve of story. Their best movie? Probably not, but certainly one of the best 10 movies of the year. Hardly a waste of time and money when there are about a thousand other happy horseshit movies to waste on.

blue mimi said...

My thought was, are we sure it was made by the Coen brothers? More like it was made by a giddy girlfriend of Oscar's and one who was not a musician. I think you may be on to something with the spoof idea--look at the loving camera on oscar in the gaslight--no grit, no honesty, perfectly miked audio, lame guitar-playing, vacuous song.

Dennett Boyd said...

I watched this movie thinking it's interesting if a bit weird. I think there were such things as pet carriers back in the 60's. When the cat was left abandoned in the car on the freeway, that's when I stopped watching. I would not recommend this movie.

glenn said...

I think the Coen brothers just have a very odd intricate sense of humour t thainvolves their lead characters being elaborately wrong and deluded.
I think this one is bit like Barton Fink. You've got the earnest but basically not very talented artist forcing himself into doing the wrong thing, plus it's again a sideways satire on screen writing. In Barton Fink the subtext was the rise of Shane Black and million dollar payouts for generic action film scripts that are all the same anyway, just like wrestling pictures. In this one it's the Save The Cat formula. which it both pokes holes in and follows almost verbatim at the same time. I don't think it's really about the 60s folk scene and I'm pretty certain the title is ironic because there's not a lot going on inside llewyn davis in the first place.
I wish they would just expand that fantastic, funny and sinister opening of a serious man into a full feature film. Coz honestly I really love idea of a comedic jewish folk horror movie,

Anonymous said...

What a depressing film! This guy is so wrong for the part, no musical ambiance to him at all. Then he abandons his cat in a car, then kills a dog while driving. No good karma could ever come to this guy. Horrible movie.

Anonymous said...

He abandons the cat and kills a dog.
Where is the good in this movie?

Anonymous said...

This movie fuckin' sucked!

Jack Rollins said...

This guy is a real loser, thinks way too much of himself. Abandons the cat, then kills a dog. No wonder he never amounted to anything. This is a depressing, bad movie.

Anonymous said...

Taking a cat into the subway station is just cruel - therefore, I will not be adding to the Coen's coffers ever again.

DC said...

I agree with you completely, so I won't repeat all you said. I am a cat lover so most of the movie really bothered me. Don't care if they were making an anti-"Save the Cat" point. It was just unnecessary and I'm really tired of seeing animals being harmed every time I watch an award winning movie! It's a lazy way to get emotion out of an audience. The Coen Brothers should be better than that.

Anonymous said...

This review annoys me, not because I disagree (which I do) but Ken Levine effectively says I'm an idiot because I disagree.

Anonymous said...

"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.”"

Ugh, this nonsense. You love the Coens, and yet you think so little of them that they would craft a film like this just to spite you? Can't you just dislike a film and find issues with its character, story, plotting, pacing, etc. without resorting to Emperor's New Clothes, straw man arguments?

I mean, for directors with a filmography so varied and eccentric, it's hardly surprising that not everyone likes every single one of them. But it's awfully disingenuous to start hacking away at them because you didn't connect with this particular film. I'm sure you wouldn't want someone calling you some kind of artistic shyster for making Dharma & Greg after you worked on Cheers and The Simpsons. Artists don't have to be perfect all the time, and often, imperfections are what make them most interesting.

It's also incredibly demeaning to film critics, who do what they do out of a sheer love of film regardless of whether you agree with them or not, and I assure you, we don't delight in going against consensus or seeing filmgoers dislike a movie that's been very widely praised.

It's also demeaning to label people who like something you don't as pretentious, just as it's deamning to label people who dislike something you do unsophisticated. I really would expect a higher level of civility here.

One other thing, can everyone please put a stop to the notion that watching a film, or engaging in any art, is time-wasting? You never get nothing out of art, even at its very worst.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I hated the film. It was boring lacklustre and a complete joke. Why make a film, waste all that energy and money on such a dull plodding antihero, who does not represent that particular era in the history of popular music? It was just a badly scripted and badly made film. I have no idea why the Coen brothers bothered. They didnt represent that era in Greenwich Village truthfully, the songs that T Bone Burnet wrote were hideous and an insult to genuine folk singers - Vale Pete Seeger - and to all musicians. i want my money back from every reviewer - read pretty much all reviewers - who said what a great film this was. Obviously being paid or too gutless to speak from the heart.

Anonymous said...

HUGE disappointment with a promising start. The key word in your whole review? Pointless.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ken, for confirming my faith in my own bad review for this movie! I just watched it, after reading a bunch of shining reviews, and because I was interested in John Goodman's character after seeing previews.

The only endearing quality in Llewellen's character was his uncharacteristic initial displays of responsibility for returning the cat who he accidentally let out of the owner's house. Nearly every other move he made was either rude, heartless, stupid, ill-mannered, insensitive, ungrateful, irresponsible, self-centered, or self-sabotaging - I kept waiting for the asshole to make one really good decision, and it never happened! What was the point of the man in the suit who he twice let beat the shit out of him? Was that some sort of artistic symbolism, since he let it roll off his back both times (not his nature), and didn't show any bruises or seem to have broken ribs... was Mr. Mean in the alley his conscience?

Being a cat lover who actually cried when he left the sweet, loving kitty with John Goodman, I had to justify it in my mind by thinking a nice cop would rescue her, and I must get that whole scene out of my mind. The Coens are without a doubt cat-haters, or heartless themselves. This is merely my biggest regret for watching the movie, waiting for Asshole to reciprocate some goodness and maybe feel some fondness for someone!

What is wrong with the Coens and critics who think this is a wonderful movie? I felt no sense of nostalgia, and if I hadn't read it, and only the reference to President Kennedy in the song would identify the time period. Asshole has a decent voice and plays guitar well enough, but he blew it and never listened. Another downer.

I could go on and on, but want to stop thinking about it. Both thumbs down, and wish I could get a refund, but I rented it through the cable company. Thank you, Ken Levin, for restoring my faith in mankind - I actually had to Google Negative reviews for this movie, because I could only find positive ones; then I had to comb through the "negative" ones that were actually mostly "positive" to find your blog!

Roberto said...

Sorry for coming so late to the party, but I just saw the movie on Pay Per View last night, and am still trying to make sense of it.

So, I Googled the reviews, just to get context, and found such an overwheling critical acclaim that I, too, wondered whether these very knowledgeable folks saw the same movie I did.

So, it was very refreshing to me to have come across Ken's review and the varied comments about the movie, pro and con, on this thread.

I'm still curious about the same thing that Sean was wondering about: Was the movie essentially a flashback to explain the opening scene?

If so, then to me the movie becomes "Groundhog Day" meets "Forrest Gump," but with a twist from chaos theory (you know, the butterfly flapping its wings eventually sets of a hurricane).

In one iteration, the first, the cat (butterfly) gets out of the apartment and sets off a whole chain of events that culminate in Llewyn getting beat up in the alley outside the club. In the second iteration, the cat does not get out, and few events ensue. But regardless, fate is fate, and the end is still the same: Llewyn still gets beat up outside the club.

That's the only sense I've been able to make of this.

Bob B. said...

I REALLY wanted to like the movie...but, as you have said Ken...this movie has no soul. ...but Llewyn is just an aimless putz ..Carey Mulligan's character is the most soulless of all and like most women I have ever met...she nails very guy in the bar and blames me for her behavior....talk about coming up empty...and that has not changed since 1961...it has gotten MUCH worse! :-)
I have no idea why the critics waxed about this movie...maybe they all have the soul of Jean (Carey)?

Anonymous said...

If you read a short story by Flannery O' Connor or Hemmingway or Faulkner, you don't expect some of the things that are expected of film today, but they are considered great works. Even so, they leave you in an uncomfortable place of tension. It seems that we live in a culture that demands to be entertained. I agree that there is the element of hope missing, but the reality of the human condition on it's own is utterly hopeless and if the Coen Brothers are nihilistic in their worldview in this film (which I don't always think they end up being in all of their work) it shouldn't be surprising what they come up with. However, on the flip side, I find it encouraging that so many are complaining of the emptiness of the film and their disappointment in it in that regard. This is proof that there are those who are searching for meaning beyond the bleak, sardonic, outcomes of life without it. Rather than a warning given from literature that screams loudly "turn around!" the film falls into the category of, "Watch it, this could be all there is". That, I do not believe. Those who felt the gnawing ache after watching it, take heart. There are still points to take away from the film. After that, walk away. Leave the Coen brothers where they are at.

Jack said...

I agree, this movie sucked. I'm a big fan of Coen Bros. and of the 1960s Greenwich scene, but this movie was really unlikeable.

It didn't have any of the cool, intelligent artsy conversations you would attribute to that Greenwich scene, except for a few minutes of the heroin-addled John Goodman character. Instead it replaced that with a few scenes of chasing a cat.

What's more, the main character is an ungrateful jerk who seems to think the world owes him something.

The only thing going for it is the quality of the filmstock and the sound quality. The songs were BORING, every single one except the Bob Dylan song at the end. So, the music sucked, the guy was a jerk. Very very disappointing.

Anonymous said...

Laurie said...

Couldn't agree more with this review. Certainly for me in this case the emperor has no clothes. The story is relentless in it's tedium, the characters unlikeable and the film itself over stylised and over indulged.As for the music, it is shockingly boring - with one fawning critic actually claiming that this (poor music) is part of the film's genius... you just have to laugh that they can get away with it.
I actually like the Coen's but this is a stinker.

Anonymous said...

I agree, this movie was a dissapointment ... especially after all the hype and the fact I am fascinated by that time period in NY. I also love cats ... which made this movie suck even more. Your blog came up first after Googling "Inside Llewyn Davis sucks"

Anonymous said...

I thought the lack of politics was a big problem.

Kevin L

FB Friend said...

Spot on, Ken. I just watched this atrocity and can NOT believe the sterling reviews it received. I just sent a scathing email to a friend of mine which said essentially the same thing you said.

I didn't read the reviews (hype) for the film until the night before I viewed it and when I saw all those red ripe tomatoes, I thought it was going to be GREAT. Sooo, it's the Coens and everyone is saying it's their "best film ever." Ooookay...

As I told my friend in the email tonight, the first 40 minutes in I was bored and wondered where the film was going.

An hour in and I wanted to stick ice picks in my eyes.

No redeeming qualities except maybe for the set designer. Oh, but I got tired of the Woody Allen palette of browns, beiges, blacks, and grays, so maybe not.

I think the Coen's came up with an ending and then wrote the film around it, stealing what the they could.

Want to see a far, FAR better film from those early 60s in Greenwich Village? NEXT STOP GREENWICH VILLAGE by Paul Mazursky (r.i.p, a great filmmaker).

Hell, even "A Mighty Wind" nailed the era better than the Coens.

One more thing - I googled "Inside Ilewyn Davis, awful movie" after viewing it. Your column came up first on the list. I'm a FB friend of yours so that was a nice thing to see.

I agree completely with you about how people are so afraid of appearing "uncool" nowadays; sheeple!

Anonymous said...

He doesn't save the cat, or more accurately cats, over and over. He endangers them over and over. Ulysses saves himself, finding his own way home. The un-named female (no scrotum?) Is injured and left to die on the highway.

Anonymous said...

Hated this movie. Was friends and worked with people coming out of the Gaslight. I also love cats and this character was as misogynistic and egocentric as they come. His shallowness showed up in his lyrics too. There is nothing inside Llewyn Davis. HATED THIS. Why not celebrate the genius of the times. Glad he got punched out finally and glad Dylan upstaged him at the end.

Booker T said...

I think your instincts are spot-on. Love the Coen Bros., but was very disappointed with this thoroughly unlikable film. Other than John Goodman's appearance, there was nothing else to show how remarkable & loveable the best of the Coen Bros.'s work can be.

DLargo said...

I love this film. It resonates with that cold, tired, dead, cynical part of a person who is still trying, but fed up with everything failing. Maybe I'm just more tolerant of despicable characters. To me they felt honest. I've met people like every character in this. It is actually a hopeful film for me, in that it gives a little nod and a wink to the people who miss the cultural boat. That's what the film is about, missing opportunities, and being your own worst enemy. A comedy of errors. Benign and inevitable failure. That being said, I haven't stayed with the Coens much since No Country.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. Movies are supposed to be entertaining. This is anti-entertaining. It bums you out and then puts you to sleep and then when you wake up it's still going. I don't think explosions are necessary in a movie for it to be fun, but I wish something did blow up so it didn't feel like a complete waste of time.