Having fallen on rough times, Llewyn Davis is just looking for a break in the world of folk music. Playing at a small club in New York City, he is making little headway into being discovered. After a failed meeting with his agent, Llewyn struggles to deal with the news that he has possibly gotten a friend pregnant and takes a singing gig to earn the money to help pay for the abortion. Since his agent had yet to help him connect with a music promoter in Chicago, Llewyn decides to take an offer for a ride to meet with the promoter in person. The trip brings its own challenges but he eventually makes it to meet with Bug Grossman and plays one of his songs to hopefully get recognized for his talent.
Starring: Oscar Isaac (Llewyn Davis), Carey Mulligan (Jean Berkey), John Goodman (Roland Turner), Garrett Hedlund (Johnny Five), Justin Timberlake (Jim Berkey), F. Murray Abraham (Bud Grossman), Stark Sands (Troy Nelson), Jeanine Serralles (Joy), Adam Driver (Al Cody), Ethan Phillips (Mitch Gorfein), Alex Karpovsky (Marty Green), Max Casella (Pappi Corsicato), Benjamin Pike (young Bob Dylan)
Oscar Isaac’s performance of a hapless folk singer was compelling and challenging. He created a feeling in the audience that draws forth an interest in seeing him try to succeed but learn something from his approach and chance challenges leading to continued failures. Mulligan’s aggressive personality was a little out of her traditional character but matches well with the relationship she carried with Isaac’s role. Timberlake and Goodman play opposite characters, with one being more of an optimist and full of kindness while the other spews hate and trouble.
The Cohen Brothers’ tale of a lowly folk singer grasped at the challenges of loving your craft but failing to find success in a harsh world. Llewyn was a couch-surfer with barely a penny to his name. His music was not selling and good-paying gigs were hard to come by. He believed in his music and went to great lengths to respect it and attempt to achieve, including his travels to Chicago without resources or a clear plan to make things happen. The problem with his lack of success was that he had the loss of his former partner haunting him. A song that had a chance of being a real hit was tainted because Mike was no longer around to share in the opportunity for success.
The film represented the trials that many musicians face while trying to be discovered and share their craft. He had no home and no money to support his efforts, which led him to developing relationships with friends to crash on their couches. With little money, he had fewer options to save his earnings and make financial decisions to support his future. When he recorded the session with Jim Berkey, he turned down the opportunity for royalties in order to get an immediate payout for the performance. This leads to frustration later when he learns that the song they recorded had a chance to becoming a big hit, leaving him out of the opportunity to earn additional profit. Feeling like a failure, he gave the best performance of his life but walked away to rejoin his former job as a maritime marine.
This film has an enchanting soundtrack and includes some intriguing interactions between Davis and his peers, but this is also not a film with a clear ending or redeeming takeaway. It simply serves as a week in the life of a struggling musician.
Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5