Probably the most honest and accurate reaction I can give is that this is the type of film that defies quick reactionary reviews. For instance, I enjoyed the Coen Bros’ A Serious Man when it first came out a few years ago, but since then I’ve come to absolutely love it – though I’ve still only seen it the once. As I’ve sat and ruminated over it the past few years, it’s grown fonder and fonder in my memory. I strongly suspect this new movie of theirs to have a very similar effect. I can say this is one of the Coens’ best films, but I have to qualify that by saying I think that category includes about 70-80% of their work.
It’s much more of a character study than a plot-driven story. The structure is so cyclical that even after the credits you expect Llewyn Davis [Oscar Isaac] to trod through all the events of the movie again and again, exactly the same, over and over and over like Sisyphus on Groundhog Day. Isaac does a perfect job (including his own singing and guitar work) as Davis. He’s a wholly unpleasant, unlikable guy, until he’s behind his guitar. I kept expecting this or that character (or cat) to be the entry point for the audience to be ale to connect with him, but each of them is merely a passing bystander. Instead the music is the soul that makes us feel for the poor guy.
And soulful it is. In a perfect world this soundtrack would do for 60’s folk music, what O Brother Where Art Thou did for Roots Americana. Unfortunately it won’t. That film had the added benefit of being more easily accessible to the every day movie-goer. This is a bit more cerebral. It’s hilarious too, yes, but headier and darker. But for those of us who enjoy that sort of thing, it’s much much MUCH more fulfilling.
One final note: John Goodman has a “minor” (I use that term ironically) role that has him onscreen for all of maybe 15-30 minutes. But holy SHIT that’s one hell of a show! Seriously that guy is getting better and better with every movie these days, and he’s doing a lot. But this may be his best yet. The Oscars should have a Best Cameo category, for smaller supporting roles, just for him.