Each year, the New York Film Festival celebrates the best in movies including major releases, independent works and thought provoking documentaries. Highlighting this year’s slate of offerings is the new offering from the Coen Brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis, in theaters later this fall.
Joel and Ethan Coen, brothers who make movies together, seem to approach each new project with the excitement of children with a new toy. Everything is possible, anything can be created, nothing must stand in the way. For almost 30 years, their cinema sandbox has generated remarkable work from Fargo to No Country for Old Men to True Grit. Now they bring a delightful story of failure to screen in the name of Inside Llewyn Davis, a highlight of this year’s extraordinary New York Film Festival.
The Coen Brothers take us back to New York City in 1961 when folk singers gathered in smoke-filled cafes in Greenwich Village to express their anger, articulate their hopes, and dare to dream of hitting the big time. Llewyn, expertly crafted by Oscar Isaac, resembles many who drift. He can’t always find a place to sleep, is not always certain how the next meal will emerge, and struggles with any form of commitment to his friends and family. He lacks a confidence in his life that he achieves when he sings but he stops short of securing audience belief in the authenticity of his message.
This failure to connect is at the core of the Coens’ point of view. Llewyn is reviled by some of his friends, dissed by his sister and ignored by this aging father. Few people seem to believe in him; an older couple who offer their couch use him as dinner entertainment more than engage him as a friend. Only with their cat he house-sits for, promptly loses and spends the the film trying to find, does Llewyn create a substantive connection. The nameless cat gives him as much positive feedback about his potential in the world than any of the humans he interacts with.
What’s so fun about the use of the cat is how the Coens deliberately lift the domestic animal as a plot device from a classic film from 1961, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in which an identical cat appears in much the same way to support the Audrey Hepburn narrative. Nothing in any Coen Brothers film is accidental; the filmmakers plan to carefully for any image to sneak in. And, when asked about how they prepare, at a panel discussion at the New York Film Festival, Joel Coen replied, “we try to establish a cultural moment with ironic concepts” to which his brother Ethan added, “we explore a man trying to be authentic, treating a folk musician as a curator of a time”.
As with all Coen films, the performances ring true. Isaac brings all the necessary shading to Llewyn making us feel for the character at the same time we permit ourselves to be frustrated. Carey Mulligan continues to shine in small roles in independent films in contrast to her confusing performances in large films like The Great Gatsby. And the great F. Murray Abraham, the Oscar winner for Amadeus, delivers an extraordinary scene as a music man so jaded by his failures that he can’t encourage a young singer’s aspirations.
Each year the New York Film Festival brings the best of film to audiences who crave creative cinema. Inside Llewyn Davis represents the best of what this festival offers. What a perfect setting to enjoy a lovely film.
Film Nutritional Value
Inside Llewyn Davis
* Content: High. Inside Llewyn Davis demands that we pay attention to the narrative, and get to know the characters, to fully embrace all that the film offers.
* Entertainment: High. Even though the subject matter is serious, the strong performances and unique Coen style contribute to an entertaining time at the movies. And the musical performances are magical.
* Message: High. The film challenges us to look at ourselves, behaviors we need to address, easy answers we seek and people we may inadvertently hurt.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to consider such important issues, prompted by a beautifully created film, with some great music, is worth the time and money.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your older children about the potential we have, the failures we must endure, and the hope we cannot lose.
Inside Llewyn Davis is rated R for “sexual references.” It runs 105 minutes.
4-1/2 Popcorn Buckets