Llewyn Davis is a mooch. And he’s a bit of a jerk. But he’s also a pretty good folk singer in 1961 Greenwich Village and looks to be part Bob Dylan, part Dave Van Ronk, and unequal parts any other guy with a guitar who broke on the scene around that time.
As played by Oscar Isaac, the title character of Inside Llewyn Davis — the infinitely entertaining new shaggy dog story from the masters of the genre, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen — is, in fact, a passable performer.
It’s Llewyn’s personal life that is a disaster, and for that, the film never hits dry spots but rambles on, with the viewer secure in knowing that something or someone outrageous will soon arrive.
While the Coens take focus on this burgeoning folk music scene, little can be gleaned of their opinion of those who make up this eclectic group. The brothers might be commenting on how these people who would go on to help change the course of the country later that same decade were all massive screw-ups.
The musicians share some personal weaknesses, but what they all seem to have in common is an ability to sing soulful tunes. New songs have been penned to go along with some standards, all adequately performed, as the Coens refrain from turning this into a satire of poor execution by misguided souls.
Llewyn plays his songs at the local coffee shop. When he leaves, he grabs a sofa wherever he has least worn out his welcome. He must leave one spot because he has impregnated Jean (Carey Mulligan), the girlfriend of his good friend Jim (Justin Timberlake). At the apartment of a couple of Upper East Side liberals, he loses their cat and then insults them before leaving.
Before long, for some vaguely defined reason, he ends up on the road to Chicago, sharing driving time with another musical oddity, the surly Roland Turner (John Goodman). Once in town, Llewyn auditions for Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham), the owner of a folk club who simply tells him, “I don’t see a lot of money here.”
The Coens take us along this merry, highly evocative trip as they drop a deadpan hilarious line here and there while pausing to accentuate human foibles that affect us all — even 1960s folk singers.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Rated R, 105 minutes.
Opens Friday at the Angelika Plano and Landmark Magnolia in Dallas.