I finally got around to watching “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Rented it from iTunes – which I rarely do. I’m patient enough these days to wait until a movie shows up on Netflix. Unless my endless searching of foreign films and documentaries comes up dry for a night. And I get desperate enough to give Apple some more of my money. Last time that happened I watched “Nebraska” which I absolutely loved. Really. Not a word I use often about movies outside of Pixar flicks. But the connection is not all that far-fetched. Pixar movies are built on characters and stories. And while the stories are usually very simple ones, the characters have depth and are, excuse the intended pun, well-drawn.
And that’s what made “Nebraska” so enjoyable for me. Simple story. Fantastic characters fully realized by great actors. Doesn’t seem like much to ask, does it? But not easily found these days, when Hollywood makes movies for 14 year olds who like things that go “boom” or jiggle. Or both. With maybe some drunks puking and fart jokes thrown in.
Hey, I saw “Animal House” probably at least fourteen times and I was 24 at the time. I get it.
But that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away.
I’m a fan of the Coen Brothers…not a crazy fan where I’ll go see their latest the day it comes out. I don’t go to the movie theaters these days so it’s not about them. I just want to watch in the quiet of my own viewing space without commentary or chatter or interruptions.
This isn’t going to be a review of the movie and I’m aware that my liking it so much may have to do with having spent time in Greenwich Village. While it wasn’t during the era the story is set in, the legendary Dave Van Ronk cast a long and lasting shadow over MacDougal Street. I was hanging in the village well over a decade after the hey-day of folk, Dylan’s reign and Jimi Hendrix’s short residency. But the vibe and legacy was deep and just spending nights in The Bitter End,where so many of my heroes had performed made the dream feel just a bit closer and more real. Seeing the time/place recreated was fun…and made me realize how much I miss those times and friends.
Very few “music” movies get it right. Jeff Bridges was great in “Crazy Heart” but that was “The Wrestler” set to music. The character wasn’t much of a stretch or that deep. This one gets it. Without bombast or melodrama but with grace, humor and irony. And by “it,” I’m not only talking about the musical performances – which historically in films have always been horrendous from a technical standpoint. Just watch Sean Penn in “Sweet & Lowdown” – who’s character is supposed to be the “second” best guitarist in the world and it’s clear he cannot play a fucking note on the guitar. And Woody Allen’s a musician??!! But that’s another blog.
By “it, ” I also mean the joy and heartache of being an artist. Oscar Isaac’s performance is tremendous. Not only is he playing and singing really, really well – he captures the love, anger, longing, self-loathing and, most importantly, the confusion that engulfs an artist who knows he’s talented but cannot catch a “break” – for reasons both self-inflicted and external. And he’s aware of it all.
It’s a small movie with no real plot – outside of the whole cat gag – but the performances are huge. Every actor/character is about as perfect as you can get. Not a line or movement out of place. John Goodman’s a national treasure as far as I’m concerned.
I wish I’d written it.
I ended up buying it from iTunes because I knew I’d watch it several times. That’s another thing I rarely do. The last film I bought was “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Howard” – another outstanding character study filled with fantastic performances and beautifully filmed. I’ve watched it a half dozen times and read the book the screenplay was based on at least that many. Like taking a master class every time.
And T Bone Burnett just keeps getting better and better. The music is pitch perfect and sounds incredible from a audio perspective. Even the novelty tune that Justin Timberlake sings with Oscar & Adam Driver is spot on.
Watch it – if you don’t like it, the next round’s on me next time we hang.