Top positive review
392 people found this helpful
No punchline here.
on January 20, 2014
(This review is for the theatrical release.)
I've read a lot of commentary about Inside Llewyn Davis failing to deliver a pay-off. Oddly, this was one of the aspects of the film I enjoyed the most. It is devoid of the glamour and artifice of an uplifting underdog story; Llewyn's story begins and ends in the same alley, no redemption found, his only prize the blood on his lips. Throughout the film, there were many moments I found myself wishing Llewyn would just say, or just do, this instead of that, find a way to overcome his weaknesses and flaws. But he always says, or does, exactly as Llewyn would do.
This is what I find so refreshing about the film, the screenplay driving it and the performances delivering it. The characters on-screen act with the same perplexing unpredictability as we all do. They never know just what to say to each other. They talk at each other rather than to each other. They are weak, and often unlikeable, and often uncomfortably vulnerable. Our expectations as an audience, sculpted by decades of formulaic Joseph Campbell-driven story arcs, are of no consequence here.
I think our desire for packages with bows on them stems from our yearning for life to follow suit. But it doesn't, does it? We are all little islands of feeling trying desperately and confusedly to express some sort of identity and to find a voice that will connect us to others.
I think it is essential to the film that we don't know the details of Llewyn's story. His relationship with Jean, his estrangement from his father, the loss of his musical partner; these things are vague hints, and as such, we can't take sides. We can't make Llewyn a hero or a villain. And so we must perceive him only as a man. A man who is somewhat pretentious, who maybe only knows how to express himself through an art form both nostalgic and exploited, a man who is selfish and yet heartbreakingly exposed.
The screenplay, the performances, the cinematography, and the sound direction are all superb. It is an earnest film. It tells a truer story than most.