The Coen brothers have a wry twinkle in their eyes as they take us on a lyrical journey with a hugely likeable musician for whom success is only barely out of reach. It's also an engaging exploration of both the the early 1960s New York folk music scene that gave us Bob Dylan and the tenacity it takes to make your dreams come true.
It's 1961, and Llewyn Davis (Isaac) isn't sure he wants to fight anymore. His career has stalled, and he's moving from couch to couch trying to pick up gigs. But he doesn't have anything to lose, and when he inadvertently acquires a pet cat he has a bit of purpose for a change. On the other hand, his longtime friendship with husband-and-wife folk duo Jim and Jean (Timberlake and Mulligan) is strained when Jean tells him she's pregnant with a child that might be his. In need of cash, he takes a job in Chicago, taking a long road-trip with two nutcases (Hedlund and Goodman). And he even considers re-enlisting in the Merchant Marines.
Despite Llewyn's quiet desperation, the Coens keep the film's tone light and endearing, with constant comical touches that keep us smiling right to the cleverly elliptical ending. They also pack the movie with folk music that's gorgeously produced by T Bone Burnett, offering emotive counterpoints to Llewyn's sardonic sense of humour. His snappy wit often gets him into trouble, but we can immediately see his depth of character as well, and Isaac is terrific in the role, the kind of guy we would happily spend a lot more time with.
All around him, the film is packed with colourful people who have their own lives and issues, all of which feel like a distraction to Llewyn's own situation. And two cats pretty much walk away with the movie, even in the presence of the terrific Mulligan and Goodman. Sands is the other stand-out as a rather ridiculously clean-cut soldier. Through all of this, the Coens keep the plot quietly meandering along, with surprising twists and turns as Llewyn hovers at this make-or-break point in his career. But for him (and for us too) the music is a connection to life, and even if he's not achieving stardom that doesn't mean he should stop singing.
Run time: 104 mins
In Theaters: Friday 10th January 2014
Box Office USA: $13.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $9.7M
Distributed by: CBS Films
Production compaines: CBS Films, StudioCanal, Anton Capital Entertainment (ACE)
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 220 Rotten: 14
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Starring: Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis, Carey Mulligan as Jean Berkey, Justin Timberlake as Jim Berkey, Jerry Grayson as Mel, Robin Bartlett as Lillian, Max Casella as Pappi, Adam Driver as Al Cody, Ethan Phillips as Mitch, Jeanine Serralles as Joy, Garrett Hedlund as Johnny Five, John Goodman as Roland Turner, Stark Sands as Troy Nelson, Alex Karpovsky as Marty Green, F. Murray Abraham as Bud Grossman
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