The idea behind Inside Llewyn Davis began with a single premise: Suppose Dave Van Ronk got beat up outside of Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village. Taking that as their starting point, and basing the titular character very loosely on Van Ronk himself, the Coen Brothers wanted to make a film that was set just before the folk revival, wanting to create a snapshot of what the traditional folk scene was like at the time in Ney York.
Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is broke. As a struggling folk singer he spends his nights on floors and couches at the few places he’s still welcome. The only gigs he gets are at the Gaslight Café. His friend Jim (Justin Timberlake) tries to help him out but Jim’s partner Jean (Carey Mulligan) does not like him one bit (he may well have got her pregnant). Things aren’t looking good, and when he stays up on the hill with the wealthy parents of his former musical partner, the Gorfeins (Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett), he contrives to lose their cat. Frustrated and on the brink of quitting, Llewyn decides to take a chance and goes to Chicago to audition for hotshot producer Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham), but his journey there is far from straightforward.
The Coen Brothers are at their best when they focus on characters. Inside Llewyn Davis is an understated offbeat gem which finds them on top form. Llewlyn seems to lurch from one disaster to the next, a man searching for a direction in life but seemingly only able to drift along. There’s a lovely cameo from John Goodman, and the music is wonderful throughout. In fact, you could almost say that this is a musical, reminding me in some ways of Robert Altman’s Nashville. Oscar Isaac does a great job on both the music and acting fronts whilst Carey Mulligan demonstrates a beautiful singing voice to augment her incredible acting talent.
Inside Llewyn Davis is released by Studio Canal and is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 26 April.