So New Girl has had its second flashback episode (now it's time to do an Alternate Universe/what if? episode!) How did the recent "Clavado En Un Bar" stack up against last season's "Virgins?"
Well, I had high hopes when I saw the promo images of Winston's whimsical leopard-dyed hair, but his basketball story didn't quite deliver. It had trademark Winston-delusion (he called his career-ending injury a "decision"), but there's no way it could beat the story of his tryst with Mysteria.
Clavado En Un Bar: 0, Virgins: 1
Schmidt started as a candy striper (or, as Nick lovingly referred to "a 300 pound wall of peppermint bark"), but realized volunteering wasn't the way to get girls. So he began selling Christmas trees – and not long after, a Christmas tree mogul happened to die on his watch, and his last words? "You can take it with you." Together, these two experiences lead Schmidt to become the materialistic man he is today.
A charmingly Schmidt-appropriate tale, but his lube disaster with Elizabeth had more panache (and quite a bit more physical comedy).
Clavado En Un Bar: 0, Virgins: 2
Coach had less of a story: he yelled advice from the sidelines of a basketball court so well that he earned his nickname. As he sagely puts it, "Sometimes, the call comes from inside the house."
By default: Clavado En Un Bar: 1, Virgins: 2
We catch our first glimpse of Law School Nick: he transforms from Dreadlock Nick to Super Preppy Nick (preppy to the point that Schmidt compliments his scarf). Eventually, he finds himself studying at the bar – when the bartender literally falls asleep on the job, he realizes he's found his calling.
This story's got a twist, though: at the end of the episode, Nick reveals that he passed the bar exam, but became a bartender anyway. Interesting...what does this portend for Future Nick?
For that nugget of character development? Clavado En Un Bar: 2, Virgins: 2
For some reason, her first job was at an ultra-ritzy day school (complete with blazers, horses, and "an ethnic gay bully"). On her first day, she bonds with an adorably picked on kid – a sweet story, until the gang finds that said adorable child is now wanted on 53 counts of embezzlement.
That said, her awkward feminist prom date/crying tryst at the park/deflowerment-via-hot-fireman wins.
Clavado En Un Bar: 2, Virgins: 3
We already know how she became a model, but we do get a completely adorable flashback of her as "Jess' first student." Oh, and she gets a career change – looks like she's joining Nick at the bar.
Adorable children vs. Mick Jagger? Tie: Clavado En Un Bar: 2, Virgins 3
Winner: Virgins! "Clavado En Un Bar" was no slouch, though: it was one of the strongest episodes of the season (it certainly has one of the best Nick/Jess moments in recent memory) – maybe New Girl's in for a renaissance in this second half of its third season? Let's hope so!
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.
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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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