From the moment the single spotlight illuminates Oscar Isaac’s bearded face, his peaceful voice, accompanied by his solo acoustic guitar, the heart begins to soar. And your heart will not come back to earth, nor will your toe stop a-tapping, until the credits roll on the Coen Brothers’ latest, Inside Llewyn Davis.
Exuding his shambolic charm from the moment he steps off The Gaslight Cafe stage, Llewyn is our beloved anti-hero and guide for a week in the New York City folk scene of the 1960s. Shamelessly sofa skipping with any friend that will have him, Llewyn’s role as the down-and-out musician trying to make it as a soloist after the unfortunate disbanding of his duo, is wearing thin. And when he loses his unwitting friends’ cat on the wild streets of New York and his ex-fling Jean (Carey Mulligan) announces a rather unwelcome issue to add to Llewyn’s to-do list, the realisation dawns that his luck is about to run out.
As Llewyn makes his way around Greenwich Village and beyond, the laughs never cease as the Coen’s typically memorable characters introduce themselves from John Goodman’s horrendous jazzman and his chain-smoking beat poet driver (Garrett Hedlund) to the hilarious session recording with Jean’s husband Jim, a surprising cameo from Justin Timberlake no less, in their commercially primed single, Hey Mr Kennedy.
Amongst the laughs, this riotous journey through the hipster origins of folk is a philosophical undertone we’ve come to expect from the Coen Brothers. Will Llewyn be able to overcome the loss that has beleaguered his career and life to date, from his former musical partner, his lovers and now his friends’ cat? Is it time to give up the dream? Will he ever fire his good-for-nothing agent? This is sadness with soul, punctuated with the only kind of music that could accompany such an odyssey.
Musically, Inside Llewyn Davis once again showcases the Coen Brothers’ innate ability to soundtrack their narrative to perfection, helped along by T-Bone Burnett, last heard in O Brother, Where Art Thou, and Marcus Mumford. That would explain all the fabulous knitwear and the Carey Mulligan, then.
With nods towards the technicolour documentaries of folk favourites like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and the other husky voiced, whisky slugging beatniks that resided in smoky Sixties dive bars, Inside Llewyn Davis is as much a heartfelt musical biopic to the folk genre as it is a typically witty and wry soon-to-be Coen classic. Undoubtedly one of my highlights of this year’s festival.
The 57th BFI London Film Festival, in partnership with American Express, takes place until 20 October 2013. View the programme online: www.bfi.org.uk/lff