Witnessing all this unfold is, in a word, lovely. That may seem an odd way to describe such a bittersweet portrait of failure and disenchantment, but the Coens are experts in drawing out the bitter and the sweet in nearly equal measure. Inside Llewyn Davis continues in the sincere, unironic register established (surprisingly, to some) by their 2010 remake of True Grit. But that’s not to say it lacks their signature black humor. At one point, Llewyn tells a fellow musician played by John Goodman that his former musical partner “threw himself off the George Washington Bridge.” Goodman wryly responds: “You throw yourself off the Brooklyn Bridge, traditionally. George Washington Bridge—who does that?”
Goodman’s role is essentially an extended cameo, as is that of Justin Timberlake, who plays yet another struggling musician. Colorful characters pop up here and there, as they do in all the Coens’ movies, but Inside Llewyn Davis is ultimately a one-man act. We follow Llewyn almost painfully closely as he tries to improve his lot, or at least make sense of it, and we root for him as we would a home team down by a point in the fourth quarter. All the while, Bruno Delbonnel’s soft-focus cinematography makes his fumblings seem even more desperate.
sees the words “What are you doing?” written on a restroom stall, and he
seems genuinely taken aback. As the viewer, getting to share in
Llewyn’s struggle to answer that question in any meaningful way is more
than worth the accompanying sorrow.
Critic’s Grade: B+
SEE IT: Inside Llewyn Davis is rated R. It opens Friday at Fox Tower.