Leading up to the release of the Coen brother’s newest film Inside Llewyn Davis, the soundtrack got more press than the movie. After watching the movie, I realize why. Inside Llewyn Davis follows the story of folk singer Llewyn Davis as he navigates the music scene of Greenwich Village in the 1960’s. Naturally, the soundtrack is loaded with classic folk songs such as “500 Miles” and “The Last Thing On My Mind” performed by artists like Justin Timberlake, Marcus Mumford, and the film’s star Oscar Isaac. I cannot recommend this soundtrack enough. The music is superb. Pop star Justin Timberlake surprises with a gentle cover of “500 Miles”, while Oscar Isaac wins over listeners with soulful and heart-wrenching performances like “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me”, “Fare Thee Well”, and “The Death of Queen Jane”. I’ve been listening to this soundtrack non-stop since I first heard it. I am in love with the music. The movie, however, is a different story.
The actors all give great performances. Oscar Isaac is not only a heartfelt singer, but he also does an excellent job drawing the audience into his character—his complications, flaws, and soulfulness. The ever-talented Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan are also wonderful, both in their singing and their acting. The other supporting actors that come in and out of the film are all singular and lively as well. The actors carry the story, but the problem is that there isn’t much of a story to carry. Llewyn Davis travels from couch to couch, singing along the way, and making a quick detour to Chicago, but English professors would wince at the plot structure. There’s no rising action, no climax, and no resolution. Knowing the Coen brothers, that may well be the point. There is no resolution for a folk singer lost in his own way in 1961 New York City. But even if that is the theme, it doesn’t make the movie enjoyable.
Inside Llewyn Davis offers a sharply real look at the life of a lost soul in the 1960’s. Llelwyn Davis deals with the suicide of his friend and singing partner, a string of meaningless sexual relationships, a bleak future, and a sense of hopelessness that is characteristic of the 60’s. This makes him interesting as a character, but the story is as stagnant as Llewyn’s music career. At the end, the viewer is left wondering—like Llewyn—what is the point?
Maybe that is the point. There is no point. And that’s fine. But it doesn’t make for a very good movie. Redemption is important in a story. Resolution is important. So is a dynamic story. Llewyn’s story is on repeat, and it gets old quickly, despite the good acting and singing. It’s a fine movie to watch once, but instead of ever watching it again, I would just put the soundtrack on repeat.