Sometimes people just don’t catch a break. Life is like that.
And when the sun refuses to shine on talent it might just be because the person concerned is a louse.Llewyn Davis, the bohemian singer and musician as played by Oscar Isaac, is such a character. He’s a serial sponger who sleeps on his friends’ couches, borrows money that he fails to return and sleeps with his pal’s wife.
Not so much living his life relying on the kindness of strangers, he takes from everybody. And whilst he tries to give back he fails because he’s self-centred and insular. Or maybe just frustrated at not getting that precious break.
The Coen Brothers’ latest is a portrait of a nearly man. The fact that he is hugely talented on the early 1960s folk scene is countered by his unpleasant manner, his abruptness and his lies.
Llewlyn exists within a tiny cocoon. He’s a striver. But the Coens highlight how iniquities can be visited on some people just as others move up the ladder.
A cousin of another quasi musical (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) this takes on a darker hue. True, there are distinctive surreal Coen touches such as a running motif about a missing cat and a cross-country journey through snow and ice to a hoped-for contract and redemption.
Cue the appearance of John Goodman as a legendary record boss who might just represent salvation. At that point in his odyssey Llewyn will accept almost anything. “I’m so tired,” he utters at one point.
The Coens frequently make unquantifiable movies and this is one of them. Partly a reminiscence of the New York folk scene, partly a glimpse of beatnik life as it briefly existed, it is also a musing on the nature of what equates to success. Isaac is superb as the tortured troubadour and there is fine support from Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan. And New York has never been lonelier.