I could probably replace this review with a simple flow chart. “Do you like Coen Brothers movies?” Yes > See “Inside Llewyn Davis.” No > Don’t see “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
Of course, despite their signatures, the writing-directing brother team of Ethan and Joel really do make varied films, all within their own vein. “Llewyn” fits in the top tier of their works, and fans will come away more than pleased.
Llewyn (pronounced “lew-win,” and played by Oscar Isaac) is a folk singer living in Greenwich Village in the winter of 1961. He’s a prototypical struggling artist, depending on the kindness and couches of friends to get by.
His journey through the week is a bit like Dante’s Inferno, a melancholy spiral of adventure and disappointment. Oh, and did I mention that it’s really, really funny? Because it is.
It terms of the Coen catalog, I’d say “Llewyn” is something like a cross between “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Barton Fink” — leaning to the “Fink” side.
Isaac is wryly perfect in the lead as he passes through a rainbow of supporting characters. Standouts include Coen vet John Goodman, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake channeling his Mouseketeer perkiness.
Most Coen films require multiple viewings for me to absorb. I didn’t quite find this one perfect, but the cheese may just need to age a bit for me.
An underlying sadness gives the film some weight balanced by moments of farce. For Coen fans, it’s almost can’t miss.