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Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

Took advantage of the blizzard to finally enjoy another neglected Christmas gift: Inside Llewyn Davis, by Joel and Ethan Coen. I can’t remember why I never got around to seeing this film in theaters, but I’m glad I chose today of all days to pop it in; the brothers’ pitch black sense of humor and Bruno Delbonnel’s washed-out cinematography were the perfect match for the cold, dreary weather.

The Coens excel at turning red herrings (Blood Simple), anticlimaxes (No Country for Old Men), and static characters (Burn After Reading) into clever meta-commentaries on the artificiality of conventional storytelling (especially when it comes to genre), thus illuminating the inherent beauty and poetry in the chaos and meaninglessness of “real” life. Inside Llewyn Davis represents the directors at their most stripped-down: while their protagonists often investigate mysteries that turn out to be mostly imaginary (The Big Lebowski) or attempt to commit the prefect crime only to be undone by the unpredictability of human behavior (Fargo), Llewyn feels like a hero in search of a coherent plot. Always just one step ahead of his rapidly unraveling life, the struggling folk singer scrambles to raise funds for a married ex-lover’s abortion, track down his friends’ lost cat, and either jump-start or escape from his stagnant musical career. As the story unfolds, these various threads are forgotten, abandoned, rediscovered, complicated, resolved offscreen—all while Llewyn, bitter and selfish and self-defeating to his core, stubbornly refuses to recognize epiphanies at every opportunity, gradually alienates everyone he knows, and ultimately loops back to exactly where he started.

The Coen Brothers are a lot like Quentin Tarantino: either you dig their distinct style and voice or you don’t. Personally, I can see myself revisiting Inside Llewyn Davis on many snowy, dismal days to come.

[Originally written March 14, 2017.]

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