Culture Street

Film review: Inside Llewyn Davis

On January 16, 2014

By Sophia Whitfield

Set in Greenwich Village in 1961, just before Bob Dylan arrived on the scene, Inside Llewyn Davis looks at a week in the life of folk singer Llewyn Davis

Academy Award Winners Joel and Ethan Coen (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) used the book The Mayor of MacDougal Street by folk musician Dave Van Ronk as inspiration for their fictionalised story. Rank died before completing his memoir which was finished by his friend Elijah Wald. Drawing on the historical element of this book, the Coen brothers have created a fictional folk singer set to the backdrop of the folk music scene at the time.

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is at a crossroads in his life. His music partner has died leaving him to perform as a solo act. The film opens with Davis giving a beautiful rendition of a complete folk song at the Gaslight Cafe in New York. He is a regular at the Gaslight, getting gigs when he can, but is making little money and lives day by day off the charity of friends and acquaintances sleeping on their couches.

He often ends up at the home of his best friend, fellow folk singer Jim Berkery (Justin Timberlake) and his wife Jean. His relationship with Jean (Carey Mulligan) is frosty and her vitriol weighs heavily on him throughout the film. He gives up royalties on a song (Please, Mr Kennedy) written by Jim, but performed by both of them, in exchange for quick cash. The song becomes a hit leading Davis on a fraught pilgrimage to Chicago in search of his big break in the company of Roland Turner (John Goodman), an obsessed jazz musician.

The storyline is circular, giving the film a staged feel with the Coen brothers returning to where it all began just one week ago. Time and place are featured with exception, from the dark smoky atmosphere of the Gaslight Cafe to the harsh reality of a New York winter. But it is the haunting music that is the star of this film, the precursor to the great Bob Dylan.

Inside Llewyn Davis is released in cinemas across Australia today.

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