Santa Cruz Good Times

Friday
Dec 26th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Songs In a Minor Key

film2Inside-Llewyn-DavisGreat music, atmosphere, problematic character in ‘Llewyn Davis'

The new film, from Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis, may not quite be what viewers expect. After the Coens celebrated the rural, regional folk music of the American South of the 1930s in O Brother, Where Art Thou, a few years back, fans may expect more of the same from the new film, with a more urban vibe. But while Llewyn Davis is set in the Greenwich Village folk scene ca. 1961, and positively teems with yearning, vintage-sounding music that might very plausibly have come from that era, it mines a much darker vein of experience as a down-on-his-luck, would-be folk singer struggles against all odds to get a foothold in the music business.

In fact, the new film has more in common with the Coen's A Serious Man, an ironic update of the Biblical story of Job, in which a hapless suburban Everyman had to cope with one damn thing after another thrown into his path by an unforgiving universe. The protagonist in Llewyn Davis also endures trials, but they mostly stem from his own bad judgment and bristly personality.

Things could be better for guitar-strumming singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), who spends his nights crashing on friends' couches while trying to hustle up some gigs in the Village. The folksinging partner with whom he recorded a debut album has jumped off a bridge. Tensions arise with his married folksinging friends, Jim and Jeannie (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan), when Jeannie finds out she's pregnant—possibly with Llewyn's child. He's become the reluctant guardian of another friend's runaway orange cat, and he can't even afford an overcoat against the blustery cold of a New York winter.

Between occasional numbers at a cellar club called the Gaslight Cafe, Llewyn tries to extract non-existent royalties from his business manager, sits in on Jim's recording of a novelty song (but signs away his right to royalties for an advance he can turn over to Jeannie), and tries to get anyone to listen to his solo album "Inside Llewyn Davis." Wearing out his welcome among his friends for his persistently bitter comments and insults, he hitches a ride to Chicago with an acerbic old jazz musician (John Goodman) and his young, hipster driver (Garrett Hedlund) in hopes of auditioning for the owner of a celebrated nightclub.

The problem is, despite the movie's title, we never do get inside Llewyn Davis; the character as written is all angsty exterior. Isaac, an appealing actor who has been wonderful in supporting roles for years, manages to bring moments of poignancy, even fleeting tenderness, to the character, and he turns out to be a terrific singer as well. But there's a limited amount of time and energy we're willing to invest in a character who persistently refuses to make any progress in life, in his music, or in his relationships with other people. The journey he takes in the course of the film, both physically and emotionally, lands him back in exactly the same place.

But where the movie comes alive is in the music, and the depiction of the era. (The legendary T Bone Burnett, along with Marcus Mumford, produced the music.) Singers of the traditional folk songs Llewyn finds so corny are getting all the attention, but the times, they are a-changin,' and Dylan is just around the corner (as referenced in a wry, fleeting onscreen moment). Isaac sings Llewyn's gritty solos with plenty of verve. And the novelty song, "Please Mr. Kennedy (Don't Send Me Into Space)," that he sings with Timberlake, with the very funny Adam Driver providing bass and counterpoint, is exactly true to the era, and hilarious too. (It's also the only time in the movie that Llewyn seems to be enjoying his chosen profession.) These are moments to remember in an ambitious, but uneven film. 


INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS  ★ ★ ★ (out of four) With Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, and Justin Timberlake. Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. A CBS Films release. Rated R. 105 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Dancing In the Rain

District Attorney Bob Lee’s death in October stunned the Santa Cruz community, but he had battled cancer fiercely—and privately—for more than a decade. Now one of his closest friends reveals the remarkable inside story

 

Giving and Giving, Then Giving Some More

2014 is almost over. Wednesday, Dec. 17, the Jewish Festival of Light, Hanukkah, begins. We are in our last week of Sag and last two weeks of December. Sunday, Dec. 21 is winter Solstice, as the sun enters Capricorn (3:30 p.m. for the west coast). Soon after, the Capricorn new moon occurs (5:36 p.m. for the west coast)—the last new moon of 2014. Sunday morning Uranus in Aries (revolution, revelation) is stationary direct (retro since July 22). Uranus/Aries create things new and needed to anchor the new culture and civilization (Aquarius). We will see revolutionary change in 2015. Capricorn new moon, building-the-personality seed thought, is, “Let ambition rule and let the door to initiation and freedom stand wide (open).” Capricorn is a gate—where matter returns to spirit. But the gate is unseen until the Ajna Center (third eye), Diamond Light of Direction, opens. Winter solstice is the longest day of darkness of the year. The sun’s rays resting at the Tropic of Capricorn (southern hemisphere) symbolize the Christ (soul’s) light piercing the heart of the Earth, remaining there for three days, till Holy Night (midnight Thursday morning). Then the sun’s light begins to rise. It is the birth of the new light (holy child) for the world. A deep calm and stillness pervades the world.The entire planet is revivified, re-spiritualized. All hearts beating reflect this Light. And so throughout the Earth there’s a radiant “impress” (impressions, pictures) given to humanity of the World Mother and her Child. The star Sirius (love/direction) and the constellation Virgo the mother shines above. For gift giving, give to those in need. Give and give and then give some more. This creates the new template of giving and sharing for the new world.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Pinned Down

Actors shine in true-crime wrestling drama ‘Foxcatcher’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Best Bites of 2014

A look back at the year in good taste

 

What downtown business is good for both one-stop shopping and last-minute gifts?

The Homeless Garden Project store. Because it is a community effort and has really useful and beautiful things, and allows you to connect with a lot of folks who are doing great work in Santa Cruz. Miriam Greenberg, Santa Cruz, UCSC Professor

 

Vino Tabi Winery

One of Santa Cruz’s most happening areas to go wine tasting is in the westside’s Swift Street Courtyard complex. Ever since a group of about a dozen wineries got together and formed Surf City Vintners (SCV), the place has been a hive of activity, and a wine-tasting mecca. Adding to the mix is the lively Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing beer company—making Swift Street Courtyard a perfect spot for a glass of wine or a pitcher of ale.

 

Betty’s Eat Inn

Yes, she’s a real person; no, this isn’t her