Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a folk singer in Greenwich Village, circa race-to-the-moon and Vietnam early 60s. He used to be one member of a duo until his partner jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Davis has been trying to craft a solo career ever since.
Things are not going well for Davis. He’s broke, sleeps only on other people’s couches, has lost the beloved cat of a middle-aged couple who have a misplaced affection for him, cannot sustain relationships, and may have knocked up the girlfriend of a fellow musician. Jean (Carey Mulligan) is a folk singer, too, part of a Peter, Paul, and Mary-esque trio. Her vocabulary consists of four-letter words and blaming Davis for everything bad in her life. She wants an abortion, but only because the baby may be Davis’s. If she could be certain it was boyfriend Jim’s (Justin Timberlake), she’d keep it.
Davis is expected to come up with the cash for the abortion, which pre-Roe v. Wade and Obamacare was considered the courtly thing to do, I guess. Ironically, it’s Jim who comes to Davis’s financial rescue by getting him a studio gig playing on a novelty record. Needless to say, Jim knows nothing of the tryst. Or the baby.
The abovementioned cat, by the way, is a metaphor. For what, I have no idea. Survival. Or home. Or catness.
John Goodman makes an appearance as a character left over from The Big Lebowski, a guy in a car with an addiction to both the black arts and heroin. He disappears from the film as quickly as he appeared, to no great effect. Several such characters have that no-great-effect effect. F. Murray Abraham plays someone recognizably human, however, but only briefly.
By film’s end we’re left with the stench of death—Davis’s career and, presumably, Jean’s aborted child. Although we may hope that Jean has changed her mind, as at least one of Davis’s other pregnant girlfriends has done. And Davis appears to have reconciled himself to his fate, his past, and one or two abused acquaintances, whom he will no doubt use and abuse again. (And do we really care, given that said acquaintances are either loathsome or cartoons?) Perhaps he’ll finally make good, which we can only hope means never being heard from again.
Isaac, who played Joseph in The Nativity Story and Fartman in Lenny the Wonder Dog, is a talented actor and will no doubt be able to milk the critics’ lavish praise of this thing to grab roles that amount to more than just looking constipated.
Please don’t misunderstand: I found myself greatly moved by the latest Coen Bros. effort. In fact, I am currently in the process of moving somewhere that is contractually precluded from showing Coen Bros. movies, which over the years have declined into little more than empty gestures pregnant with soon-to-be-aborted meaning.
Inside Llewyn Davis is another such enterprise: overpraised, mannered, and self-impressed. But there is the cat metaphor. We’ll always have the cat metaphor.