THIS mordant comedy, written and directed by the brothers Ethan and Joel Coen, has only one Academy Award nomination – for Bruno Delbonnel’s muted greenish grey cinematography that well reflects Llewyn’s inability to overcome life’s major obstacles.
Llewyn plays a Gibson guitar and sings an eclectic repertoire – folk, blues, country. Oscar Isaac plays and sings him with an admirable intensity that compels us to find relief among the misadventures befalling him in the winter of 1961. His girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) berates him with shrill anger for not having used a condom. His agent finds excuses for not paying him. The ginger cat belonging to a friend in whose apartment he has crashed escapes.
All Llewyn wants from life is to be paid for playing and singing numbers that mean something to him while he waits for an impresario to recognise his undeniable talent. The Coen brothers have no intention of granting him such indulgences. They’ve provided a litany of misfortunes to dog him along New York’s bleak streets, on a drive to Chicago and back (a wonderful opportunity for John Goodman to squeeze bleak comedy from the raddled owner of the car), uncomfortable meetings with siblings and his aged father; the list is long and the intensity close to intolerable, yet Llewyn endures it all.
It’s all poignantly funny and sad in the same moment. The music may not be the kind I now choose to hear but rather the kind I sang in my youth. The nostalgia gave me comfort. It can do the same for you.
At Capitol 6 and Palace Electric