|Inside Llewyn Davis|
Theatrical release poster
|Box office||$32.9 million|
Inside Llewyn Davis is a 2013 black comedy-drama film written, directed, produced, and edited by Joel and Ethan Coen. Set in 1961, the film follows one week in the life of Llewyn Davis, played by Oscar Isaac in his breakthrough role, a folk singer struggling to achieve musical success while keeping his life in order. The supporting cast includes Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver.
Though Davis is a fictional character, the story was partly inspired by folk singer Dave Van Ronk's autobiography. Most of the folk songs performed in the film are sung in full and recorded live. T Bone Burnett was the executive music producer. Principal photography took place in early 2012, primarily in New York City. The film, a international co-production between companies in France, the United Kingdom and the United States, was financed by StudioCanal before it received an American distributor.
Inside Llewyn Davis premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2013, where it won the Grand Prix. The film was theatrically released in France on November 6, 2013, and in the United Kingdom on January 24, 2014, by StudioCanal. It was given a limited release by CBS Films in the United States on December 6, 2013, before opening in a wide release on January 10, 2014. The film received critical acclaim and was nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing) and three Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical, Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Isaac), and Best Original Song. Inside Llewyn Davis has been held in high critical esteem since its release, being voted the 11th-best film released since 2000 in both a 2016 BBC Culture poll and a 2017 The New York Times list.
In February 1961, Llewyn Davis is a struggling folk singer in New York City's Greenwich Village. His recent solo album Inside Llewyn Davis is not selling; he has no money and is sleeping on the couches of friends and acquaintances. After playing The Gaslight Café one night he is beaten up in the alley behind the café, for reasons not immediately apparent, by a shadowy man in hat and suit with a southern accent.
Davis awakens in the apartment of two friends, the Gorfeins. As he leaves, their cat escapes and is locked out of the apartment. Davis takes him to the apartment of Jim and Jean Berkey, where Jean reluctantly agrees to allow Davis to stay the night, despite already having promised as much to another aspiring folk singer/songwriter, Troy Nelson, a young military man stationed at nearby Fort Dix. Jean informs Davis that she is pregnant, and that Davis could be the father. The next morning, Davis opens a window and the Gorfeins' cat escapes the Berkeys' apartment. Later, Jean asks Davis to pay for an abortion, though she is upset it may be Jim's child she is losing.
Davis visits his sister, hoping to borrow money. Instead she gives him a box of his belongings, which he tells her to leave outside by the curb. She mentions that he could make money by returning to the Merchant Marine. On Jim's invitation, Davis records a space travel-themed novelty song with Jim and Al Cody. Needing money for the abortion, Davis agrees to an immediate $200 rather than royalties. Davis looks to set up the appointment for the abortion, only to learn that payment will not be necessary, as he has credit with the gynecologist's office due to already having paid for the same procedure two years earlier on behalf of another woman who did not go through with it or inform Davis of her decision to raise the child in her hometown of Akron, Ohio.
While talking to Jean at a café, Davis sees what he believes to be the Gorfeins' cat, captures him, and returns him to them that evening. Asked to perform a song after dinner, he reluctantly plays "Fare Thee Well", a song he had recorded with his old partner, Mike. When Mrs. Gorfein starts to sing Mike's harmony, Davis becomes angry and tells her not to. She leaves the table crying, then returns with the cat, having realized it is the wrong sex and thus not theirs. Davis leaves, taking the cat along.
Davis rides with two musicians driving to Chicago: the laconic beat poet Johnny Five and the jazz musician Roland Turner. During the trip Davis discloses that his musical partner, Mike Timlin, died by suicide.
At a roadside restaurant, Roland collapses from a heroin overdose. The three stop on the side of the highway to rest. When a police officer tells them to move on, he suspects that Johnny is drunk and tells him to get out of the car. Johnny resists and is arrested. Without the keys, Davis abandons the car, leaving the cat and the unconscious Roland behind. In Chicago, Davis auditions for Bud Grossman, who says Davis is not suited to be a solo performer but suggests he might fit into a new trio Grossman is forming. Davis rejects the offer and hitchhikes back to New York. Driving while the car owner sleeps, and distracted by the nighttime lights of nearby Akron, he hits a cat; it slowly limps into the woods as Davis watches.
Back in New York, Davis uses his last $148 for back dues to rejoin the Merchant Marine union, and visits his ailing father. He searches for his seaman's license so he can ship out, but it had been in the box he told his sister to trash. Davis returns to the Union Hall to replace it, but cannot afford the $85 fee. He visits Jean and she tells him she got him a gig at the Gaslight.
At the Gaslight, Davis learns that Pappi, the manager, also had sex with Jean. Davis drunkenly heckles a woman as she performs on stage and is thrown out. He goes to the Gorfeins' apartment, where they graciously welcome him. There, he learns that the novelty song is likely to be a major hit with massive royalties. He is amazed to see that their actual cat, Ulysses, has found his way home.
In an expanded version of the film's opening scene, Davis performs at the Gaslight. Pappi teases Davis for his heckling the previous evening's singer and tells him that a friend of his is waiting in the alley. As he leaves, Davis watches a young Bob Dylan perform. Behind the Gaslight, Davis is beaten by the shadowy suited man for having cruelly heckled his wife, the previous night's performer. Davis watches as the man leaves in a taxi, bidding him "Au revoir".
Well before writing the script, the Coens began with a single idea, of Van Ronk being beaten up outside of Gerde's Folk City in the Village. The filmmakers employed the image in the opening scenes, then periodically returned to the project over the next couple of years to expand the story using a fictional character. One source for the film was Van Ronk's posthumously published memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street (2005).
According to the book's co-author, Elijah Wald, the Coens mined the work "for local color and a few scenes". The character is a composite of Van Ronk, Elliott, and other musicians from New York City who performed in the Village at that time. Joel Coen said, "the film doesn't really have a plot. That concerned us at one point; that's why we threw the cat in."
Shooting was complicated by an early New York spring, which interfered with the bleak winter atmosphere that prevails throughout the film, and by the difficulty of filming several cats, who, unlike dogs, ignore filmmakers' directions. On an animal trainer's advice, the Coens put out a casting call for an orange tabby cat, since they are sufficiently common that several could play one part. Individual cats were then selected for each scene based on what they were disposed to do on their own. After a chance run-in with a cabdriver who lived at their old address, the Coens used the apartment they'd rented several decades earlier.
Producer Scott Rudin, who worked with the Coens on No Country for Old Men and True Grit, collaborated on the project. StudioCanal helped finance it without an American distributor in place. "After shooting in New York City and elsewhere last year ... the brothers finished the movie at their own pace", wrote Michael Cieply in a January 2013 New York Times interview with Joel Coen ahead of a private, pre-Grammys screening in Los Angeles. "They could have rushed it into the Oscar season but didn't." On February 19, CBS Films announced it had picked up the U.S. domestic distribution rights for about $4 million. StudioCanal has rights to international distribution and foreign sales.
Dave Van Ronk's music served as the Coens' starting point for the script, and many of the songs first designated for the film were his. Van Ronk biographer Elijah Wald said that Llewyn Davis "is not at all Dave, but the music is". (The cover of Davis's solo album, Inside Llewyn Davis, resembles that of Inside Dave Van Ronk. Both feature the artist in a doorway, wearing a tweed jacket and smoking a cigarette. One difference between the two covers is that there is a cat in the doorway on the cover of Inside Dave Van Ronk.) Other songs emerged in conversations between the Coens and T Bone Burnett, who produced the music in association with Marcus Mumford. Burnett previously worked with the Coens on the music and soundtracks for The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the latter of which sold about 8 million copies in the United States. The Coens viewed the music in Inside Llewyn Davis as a direct descendant of the music in O Brother.
The humorous novelty song "Please Mr. Kennedy", a plea from a reluctant astronaut, appears to be a fourth-generation derivative of the 1960 song "Mr. Custer", also known as "Please Mr. Custer", about the Battle of the Little Bighorn, sung by Larry Verne and written by Al De Lory, Fred Darian, and Joseph Van Winkle. A Tamla-Motown single followed in 1961: "Please Mr. Kennedy (I Don't Want to Go)", a plea from a reluctant Vietnam War draftee, sung by Mickey Woods and credited to Berry Gordy, Loucye Wakefield and Ronald Wakefield. In 1962, using a similar theme, The Goldcoast Singers recorded "Please Mr. Kennedy" on their album Here They Are, with writing credits to Ed Rush and George Cromarty. The Llewyn Davis version credits Rush, Cromarty, Burnett, Timberlake, and the Coens.
Isaac, Timberlake, Mulligan, Driver and others performed the music live. The exception was "The Auld Triangle", which was lip-synced, with Timberlake singing bass. (Timberlake's vocal range was on display in the film. Critic Janet Maslin, listening to the soundtrack, mistook Timberlake's voice for Mulligan's, which she thought resembled that of Mary Travers.)
Inside Llewyn Davis had its worldwide premiere on May 19 at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. It then screened at other film festivals, including the New York Film Festival in September, the AFI Film Festival, on its November 14 close, and the Torino Film Festival, also in November.
On January 19, 2016, The Criterion Collection released a DVD and Blu-ray of the film, featuring new audio commentary tracks, interviews and other special features, including a 43-minute documentary, Inside "Inside Llewyn Davis".
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 92%, based on 281 reviews, with an average score of 8.51/10. The website's critical consensus states: "Smart, funny, and profoundly melancholy, Inside Llewyn Davis finds the Coen brothers in fine form."Metacritic gives the film a score of 93 out of 100, based on reviews from 52 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". It was voted the 11th greatest film of the 21st century in a 2016 BBC Culture poll, after No Country for Old Men, another film by the Coen brothers.
Writing for The Village Voice, Alan Scherstuhl praised the film: "While often funny and alive with winning performances, Inside Llewyn Davis finds the brothers in a dark mood, exploring the near-inevitable disappointment that faces artists too sincere to compromise--disappointments that the Coens, to their credit, have made a career out of dodging. The result is their most affecting film since the masterful A Serious Man."Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called the film "an outstanding fictional take on the early 1960s folk music scene", praising the "fresh, resonant folk soundtrack", and said Isaac's performance "deftly manages the task of making Llewyn compulsively watchable".IGN reviewer Leigh Singer gave the film a 10 out of 10 'Masterpiece' score, saying "Don't be fooled by the seemingly minor key ... this is one of the finest works by--let's just call it--the most consistently innovative, versatile and thrilling American filmmakers of the last quarter-century."
Folk singers have criticized the film for representing the Village folk scene of the time as a less friendly place than it actually was. Terri Thal, Dave Van Ronk's ex-wife, said, "I didn't expect it to be almost unrecognizable as the folk-music world of the early 1960s."Suzanne Vega said, "I feel they took a vibrant, crackling, competitive, romantic, communal, crazy, drunken, brawling scene and crumpled it into a slow brown sad movie." The film was also criticized because, though to some extent based on Van Ronk's memoir, it portrayed a character very different from Van Ronk, who, in contrast with the character Llewyn Davis, is usually described as a "nice guy". At a press interview before the premiere at Cannes, the Coens said Davis was an original creation, and that the music was the major influence they had drawn from Van Ronk.