Much like the somber melodies that float throughout its 105-minute runtime, Inside Llewyn Davis will remain lodged in your head weeks after you and the film first meet. With Oscar Isaac's "Fare thee we-e-ell..." ringing daintily in your ears, you'll shuffle out from the grasp of the Coen Brothers' wonderland of gray, but you won't soon be able to relieve yourself of what is arguable the pair's best film yet. Llewyn's is a story so outstandingly simple — he's a man who's s**t out of luck, and not especially deserving of any. He wakes up, loses his friend's cat, plays some music, and wishes things were better. And yet his is the Coens' most invigorating and deftly human tale yet.
Llewyn Davis makes the bold, but practical, choice of never insisting that we love its hero. He's effectively a jackass, justifying all the waste he has incurred with the rudeness he showers on the majority of those in his acquaintance. But Llewyn Davis isn't the villain here, either. The villain is the industry, and all the uphill battles inherent to its machinations. The villain isn't Llewyn's substantially more successful contacts — an old pal Jim (Justin Timberlake) and new fellow couch-surfer Troy (Stark Sands), but the listening public that prefers their saccharine pop to his dreary drips of misery. The villain isn't Llewyn's resentful old flame Jean (Carey Mulligan), no matter how many volatile admonitions she might shoot his way, but the act of God surrounding their unwitting adherence to one another. And it's not even the cantankerous and foul Roland Turner (a delightfully hammy John Goodman), but the endless, frigid open road of which each man is a prisoner (if the film has one flaw, it's that this segment carries on just a bit too long, but that might very well be the point). The villain is the cold.
Call it all a raw deal. But the real dynamism isn't in the challenges that happen outside Llewyn Davis, but in the determined toxicity brewing inside as he meets each and every one.
But this isn't the Coen Brothers' Murphy's Law comedy A Serious Man — we don't watch a chaotic pileup of every imaginable trick that the devil can manage to pull. Llewyn is steady throughout, not burying Llewyn deeper but keeping him on the ground, with the fruit-bearing branches forever out of his reach. In its narrative, Llewyn Davis is as close to natural life as any of the filmmakers' works to date. Perfectly exhibited in a late scene involving a trip to Akron, Llewyn isn't a cinematic construct, but the sort of person we know, so painfully, that we are very likely to be... on our bad days.
Still, working in such a terrific harmony with the grounded feel of Llewyn himself, we have that Coen whimsy in their delivery of 1960s New York City — rather, a magic kingdom painted in the stellar form of a 1960s New York City. And not the New York City we're given by the likes of Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen. Closer, maybe, to Spike Lee or Sydney Lumet, but still a terrain unique to moviegoers. A New York that's always recovering from a hostile rain, and always promising another 'round the bend. One that flickers like a dying bulb, with its million odd beleaguered moths buzzing around it against the pull of logic. There is something so incredibly alive about the Coens' crying city; this hazy dream world's partnership with half-dead, anchored-to-earth portrait like Llewyn is the product of such sophisticated imagination at play.
And to cap this review of one of the best features 2013 has given us, it's only appropriate to return to the element in which its identity is really cemented: the music. Without the tunes bobbing through the story, we'd still likely find something terrific in Llewyn Davis. But the music, as beautiful as it is, is the reason for the story. As we watch Isaac's hopeless sad sack drag himself through Manhattan's winter, past the helping hands of friends and into the grimaces of strangers, as we struggle with our own handfuls of nihilistic skepticism that any of this yarn is worth the agony (or that our attention to its meandering nature is worth the price of a ticket), we are given the rare treat of an answer. Of course it's all for something. Of course it's all about something. It's about that beautiful, beautiful music.
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Meet Beverly D'Onofrio (Drew Barrymore) a woman on her way to getting her first book published. She is driving with her grown son Jason (Adam Garcia) back to her hometown in Connecticut for the first time in many years. Together they begin discussing Beverly's book a memoir of her life. Jumping back to 1968 we meet Beverly as a bright 15-year-old girl with a talent for writing. She dreams about going to college and getting out of her small-town existence. But like most teenagers she and her best friend Fay (Brittany Murphy) also have a penchant for boys--except Bev picks them from the wrong side of the tracks. Inevitably Bev meets Ray (Steve Zahn) a sweet guy but a total screw-up gets pregnant and has a son. Now she's stuck..and stuck..and still stuck---unhappy and taking it out on her child throughout the years. On this road trip she comes to grips with what she's done with her life and her son's.
Barrymore has certainly come into her own as an actress choosing projects that highlight her sweet comedic talent such as The Wedding Singer and Never Been Kissed. In Boys she goes for the melodramatic and although she has some great moments the material actually brings her down. Her Beverly is an annoying selfish woman who never really shows much affection towards her son--not what you would call a flattering portrayal in any way. However some of the supporting performances are outstanding including James Woods- as Beverly's cop father and Murphy as the best friend who is about as loyal as it comes. Zahn really stands out as Ray the good-hearted but drug-addicted father. His tender scene with his son before he leaves the house for good was heartfelt and real. If anyone is to get an Oscar nomination from this film it may be him.
Maybe it was director Penny Marshall's intention but the movie makes you feel like you too are stuck as you watch one opportunity after another pass Beverly by. It was exhausting and hardly worth the time spent in the theater. Marshall has had such a nice touch with comedies before such as Big and A League of Their Own but she can definitely turn on the schmaltz when she wants to and she does it in spades in Boys. Of course the funny moments were wonderful. Barrymore getting ready for a big scholarship interview with her adorable three-year-old watching her was fun but you've seen most of it in the trailer. Perhaps the fault lies not with Marshall or Barrymore but rather with the plodding script which basically goes nowhere. Once again Hollywood has decided to make a movie that would have been better suited for television.