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Inside Llewyn Davis

Year: 2013
Studio: CBS Films
Director: Joel Coen/Ethan Coen
Producer: Joel Coen/Ethan Coen/Scott Rudin
Writer: Joel Coen/Ethan Coen
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Michelle Williams, Justin Timberlake, Ethan Phillips

I'm not sure if it was ever expressly talked about in relation to The Coen brothers love letter to the shabby/romantic life of a 60s folk singer, but something I got from this movie without expecting to was the challenge the script set itself to have the audience understand and sympathise with ('like' is too strong a word) a character this selfish who treats those around him so terribly.

Even though Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) can't seem to catch a break in his decline from popularity – out of money, with nowhere to live and with options rapidly running out – he's actually surrounded by people who like him and will help him if he accepts. He just tends to spit in their eyes because of his own desperation and selfishness, among them his former girlfriend Jean (Michelle Williams) and the well to do Mitch (Ethan Phillips) – who lives in luxury and shows Llewyn nothing but kindness.

The plot itself is fairly episodic, adding up to a week or so in Llewyn's life and his further descent into desperation to try and keep his career alive. We learn he was part of a successful folk music duo before his partner killed himself, he has an acrimonious relationship with his former girlfriend because of his continual taking advantage of her and of her being pregnant – possibly with his child – and he's trying to stay relevant and out of the poorhouse while hustling for club gigs.

He agrees to a quick and cheap payment to help record a cheesy song for friend Jim (Justin Timberlake) rather than royalties which you just know is a bad idea, catches a lift most of the way to Chicago with a grizzled, cynical, heroin addicted jazz musician (John Goodman) and his James Dean-esque friend and driver. He ends up stuck with the cat belonging to Mitch and his wife, which explains why he's carrying a cat around so much in the poster and trailers.

It's a long downhill slide that despite being all in black and white and sounding pretty bleak, has some effective comic moments. How much you like it will depend on your tastes in the asethetics of the scene – colourful, pacy and busy it's not – but the performances are enough to keep you interested.

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