Inside Llewyn Davis is a 2013 film directed by the infamous Coen Brothers and starring Oscar Isaac as the titular character. Llewyn is a struggling folk musician living in Greenwich Village in 1961, and things never seem to go right for him. The film depicts a week in the life of Llewyn, taking place shortly after his singing partner commits suicide. This has left Llewyn as a solo act, and throughout the film, the audience follows him through a series of misfortunes and misadventures that are as comical as they are saddening. Brilliantly directed and masterfully acted, Inside Llewyn Davis is a melancholic, entertaining, melodic, and heartbreaking look into the life of an artist who, no matter how hard he tries, can never make it like he longs to.
Inside Llewyn Davis stands out among the rest of the Coen Brothers’ filmography because of how different the tone is from their typical work. Yes, it’s comedic, and yes, it gets whacky, but none of their films feel the same as this one—even with the comedy that remains throughout the story, it is a sad one at heart, and seeing Llewyn try and try again, failing every time, tugs at the audience’s heartstrings in a way that no other Coen Brothers’ film has managed to. It’s tough to watch at times, pleasant to watch at others, and any given scene can change the tide of the film and take the audience to emotions that they wouldn’t expect to be explored in a film from the Coen Brothers. It’s surprising in that way, and this surprise and contrast to the rest of the directors’ filmography makes the film all the more amazing.
The performances delivered by the entire cast of Inside Llewyn Davis are remarkable, whether it be Carey Mulligan as Jean, Llewyn’s friend who spouts profanity at him, or John Goodman as Roland, a strange, uppity man that Llewyn ends up on a road trip with, or Justin Timberlake as Jim, another one of Llewyn’s friends who, even though he is struggling, seems to be okay with that in a way that Llewyn can never be.
None of the performances shine like Oscar Isaac’s performance does, though, and he by far stands out as the most enthralling of them all. His portrayal of Llewyn is practiced and nuanced, but done so in a way that feels effortless, like he is this person, like there is no difference between actor and character. The crooning of his voice when he sings is mesmerizing, and the way he acts, down to his expressions and gestures, feels so lived in that it’s impossible to imagine how this can be a performance. Isaac brings much needed life to an otherwise gloomy character, and he does so flawlessly, cementing himself as an underappreciated talent that deserves more respect.
The film looks beautiful, too, and gives off the perfect melancholy tone that a story like this needs. The colors are typically cold and unsaturated, giving the movie a dreary feel to it, which works well when considering the story as a whole. The dim lighting casts shadows that follow the character throughout the entire film, and remind the audience that, at its heart, this story is not a happy one, no matter how comedic it may get at times.
This is the story of someone who the audience sees fail over and over again. There is no happy ending, no bright side for Llewyn. He’s real—an artist who doesn’t make it, which there are plenty of. It’s a story that doesn’t get told as often as success stories do, but one that is undoubtedly needed. Not everyone makes it, no matter how hard they may try—though it’s disheartening to think, it’s an undeniable truth that most films are too afraid to admit. Inside Llewyn Davis never shies away from the grim, depressing side of show business, and isn’t afraid to show a main character who, though talented, is never quite good enough for the industry that continues to demand more from him.
Inside Llewyn Davis is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.