We are awash in films examining the Beats and the roots of the generation shift that occurred from the late 1950s through the 1960s – but none with a clearer eye than Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
The film is a circular thing: It seems to end up exactly where it starts out. Which may be the point, in this character study of a would-be folk singer standing just shy of a big moment for folk music in the Greenwich Village of the early 1960s.
Indeed, that’s one of the jokes (and by jokes, I mean sly winks, not guffaw-triggers) in the film: that, if you look hard, you’ll catch a glimpse of the young Robert Zimmerman (actually, an actor playing him) taking the stage in the background of another scene.
The future is coming. It is almost the moment when folk music will become mainstream enough to be on a national TV network: the weekly show, “Hootenanny,” which tried to pasteurize the growing sense of social commentary out of what had started as a celebration of traditional music. Almost.
Llewyn Davis (played with bristly charm by Oscar Isaac) is a purist about the music he sings: mournful and incisive songs from the past that capture an emotional moment in the present. But his commercial potential – his delivery comes minus any jolt of jejune sincerity – seems severely limited.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” seems to take place during the course of a single week in Llewyn’s life. He’s been playing at the pass-the-hats in the Village, trying to flog a solo career, having had mild success as part of a duo. But his solo album went nowhere – and his nightmarish agent may not, in fact, have been trying to get him what could be a breakthrough gig in Chicago.
This review continues on my website.