Dec. 16, 2013

Marc Platt's Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

"...What's old is new and what's new is old.."
(from Inside Llewyn Davis)

Let me preface this review with tha fact that I went to the first screening on the first day the movie was released. I have also read a lot of reviews by writers I know and don't know and have been perplexed by some of the reaction from rock critics.

Music critics don't like it, but a lot of regular folks (no pun intended) do like the film a lot. I also downloaded the soundtrack. It is excellent.

I fall somewhere in the middle.

First of all, the film is not directly about Greenwhich Village Folk Legend Dave Van Ronk. It is loosely based on his book "The Mayor of MacDougal Street." There are a few lines and events lifted directly from that source. The Llewyn Davis character played brilliantly by Oscar Isaac is a dour, decadent couch surfer who lacks hope.

Many survivors of that scene who are still around insist that the music scene in the Village was actually a joyous experience for most and not a snapshot of the "Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" album that the Coen Brothers devised for their look of the scene in 1961.

What I liked about the film were two things. 

The music was expertly recaptured by T-Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford. Oscar Isaac has a great voice and plays guitar very well almost expertly capturing Van Ronk's finger picking style. I loved the music throughout the movie and there are contributions by co-star Justin Timberlake and other current arftists on the music scene.

The thing I like the most about the film is the attitude of people towards folk music and musicians at that time. The John Goodman (Doc Pomus-like) character looks down on Davis as a "Three-chord" neophyte. The F. Murray Abraham (Albert Grossman-like) character declares "I don't see any money here" when Davis plays for him in his Chicago club.

I love the attitude of the upper West Side couple who often host Davis on their couch and call him "Our folk singer friend" to their dinner guests.

To me, that is what the essence of "Inside Llewyn Davis" is really about, NOT the historical accuracy that the Gaslight Club conveys, or whether the folky artists could walk into a doctor's office and so casually talk about getting an illegal abortion. Yes some of those things are annoying, but not enough to declare the film "Bad."

This is a good film, not a great film. This is a film that will do a lot of good to expose people to a music that has long been lost in the American psyche. This is the pre-Dylan period of traditional folk music that is well-documented in this film.

I recommend this film, especially to people who don't know much about this time period in our history.