Inside Llewyn Davis: Never New, Never Old


There’s that photo. You know, the iconic one where the young, cherub-faced scruff is cuddling up against a beaming girl, a you-and-me-against-the-world pose to keep off the chill of the cruel world slushing around their footsteps as they make their way through New York’s Greenwich Village…


The poster for the Coen Brother’s latest, Inside Llewyn Davis, sums up the great divide separating Greenwich-era Bob Dylan from the film’s titular character. “Llewyn” may be a Welsh name that echoes Dylan’s, but where Bobby has a smiling girl and a winter coat (sort of) to keep him warm, Davis clutches a cat and guitar for cold comfort. Dylan arrived just as the folk revival was breaking and was the indirect benefactor of a scene people like Davis fomented.


The Coen’s do a nice job of linking Davis to Dave Van Ronk, but by all accounts, the “Mayor of MacDougal Street” wasn’t such a jerk. Which gets to the heart of the film’s problem. While actor Oscar Isaac pulls off portraying a dick with a fantastic voice, no one wants to spend any time with him, including the audience. Davis is onscreen for most of the duration of the film and his recalcitrance and self-pity weigh down every scene. It’s no wonder the best moments are those when he sings (“The Death of Queen Jane” is gorgeous), or when Justin Timberlake or John Goodman make cameos.

Overall, the misunderstood, white-male-sad-sack-of-an-artist is a trope too stale to sustain an entire film in 2014, no matter how much impeccable writing and craft go into it. As Davis says, “If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song.” True, but if it wasn’t fresh to begin with, it hardly deserves an encore.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *