Inside Llewyn Davis is a 2013 American drama film written, directed, produced and edited by Joel and Ethan Coen. Set in 1961, the film stars Oscar Isaac in the title role as a New York City folk singer, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, and Justin Timberlake. The film follows one week in the life of Llewyn Davis, a folk singer struggling to achieve musical success while keeping his life in order.
Although Davis is a fictional character, the story was partly inspired by the autobiography of folk singer Dave Van Ronk. Most of the folk songs performed in the film are sung in full and recorded live, with T Bone Burnett being the executive music producer.
The film won the Grand Prix at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where it screened on May 19, 2013. It received a limited release in the United States on December 6, 2013, and was given a wide release on January 10, 2014. It received critical acclaim and was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing, and for the Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical, Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Isaac, and Best Original Song."Inside Llewyn Davis (2012)". British Film Institute. Retrieved July 30, 2014. Michael Phillips (October 24, 2013). "When movies make the most of their budgets, it shows". Chicago Tribune. Tribune Company. Retrieved January 12, 2014. "Inside Llewyn Davis". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
In February 1961, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a struggling folk singer in New York City's Greenwich Village. His musical partner, Mike Timlin, has committed suicide; his recent solo album Inside Llewyn Davis is not selling; he has no money and is sleeping on the couches of friends and acquaintances.
Llewyn wakes up in the apartment of two of his older friends, the Gorfeins. When he leaves, the Gorfeins' cat escapes. Llewyn takes the cat to the apartment of Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan) Berkey. Jean tells Llewyn she is pregnant. The next morning, the Gorfeins' cat escapes again. Later Jean, fearing that Llewyn may be the father, asks him to pay for an abortion.
On Jim's invitation, Llewyn, as part of the "John Glenn Singers", records a novelty song with Jim and Al Cody (Adam Driver). Needing money immediately, Llewyn agrees to $200 with no royalties. At the gynecologist's office, Llewyn sets up Jean's appointment and discovers that a previous girlfriend, whose abortion he also paid for, decided to keep the baby and moved to Akron without telling him.
While eating with Jean, Llewyn spots what he believes to be the Gorfeins' cat and returns it that evening. Asked to play after dinner, he reluctantly performs "Fare Thee Well", a song he had recorded with Mike. When Mrs. Gorfein starts to sing Mike's harmony, Llewyn yells at her. Mrs. Gorfein leaves the table crying, then returns with the cat, having realized that it is not theirs. Llewyn leaves with the cat.
Llewyn rides with two musicians driving to Chicago: the laconic beat poet Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) and the odious jazz musician Roland Turner (John Goodman). At a roadside restaurant, Roland collapses from a heroin overdose. The three stop on the side of the highway to rest. When a police officer tells them to move on, Johnny resists and is arrested. Without the keys, Llewyn abandons the car, leaving the cat and the unconscious Roland behind. In Chicago, Llewyn auditions for Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham). Grossman says Llewyn is not suited to be a solo performer but suggests he might incorporate him in a new trio he is forming. Llewyn rejects the offer and hitchhikes back to New York. Driving, he hits what he fears may be the same cat.
In New York, he pays $148 in back dues to rejoin the merchant marine union, and visits his ailing father. Llewyn searches for his seaman's license so he can ship out with the merchant marine, but his sister has thrown it out. Llewyn apologizes to Jean for everything and she tells him she got him a gig at the Gaslight. At the Gaslight, Pappi claims he had sex with Jean. Llewyn heckles a woman as she performs. He goes to the Gorfeins' apartment, where they graciously welcome him. He is amazed to see that their actual cat, Ulysses, has found his way home.
Llewyn performs at the Gaslight. Pappi teases him about his heckling the previous evening and tells him that a friend of his is waiting outside. Behind the Gaslight, Llewyn is beaten by a shadowy suited man for heckling his wife, the previous night's performer. Llewyn watches as the man leaves in a taxi.
CastOscar Isaac as Llewyn DavisCarey Mulligan as Jean BerkeyJohn Goodman as Roland TurnerGarrett Hedlund as Johnny FiveJustin Timberlake as Jim BerkeyF. Murray Abraham as Bud GrossmanStark Sands as Troy NelsonJeanine Serralles as JoyAdam Driver as Al CodyEthan Phillips as Mitch GorfeinAlex Karpovsky as Marty GreenMax Casella as Pappi CorsicatoChris Eldridge as Mike Timlin (uncredited) Marcus Mumford as Mike Timlin (voice)Benjamin Pike as young Bob Dylan Fleming, Mike (October 13, 2011). "Oscar Isaac Lands Lead In Coen Brothers 60s Folk Music Film". Deadline.com. PMC. Retrieved February 4, 2012. Gallagher, Brian (October 20, 2011). "Carey Mulligan Joins 'Inside Llewyn Davis'". MovieWeb. Retrieved February 4, 2012. "John Goodman". Cast. CBS Films. Retrieved June 28, 2013. Newman, Nick (October 31, 2011). "John Goodman Joins Coens' 'Inside Llewyn Davis'". TheFilmStage.com. Retrieved February 4, 2012. Chitwood, Adam (January 9, 2012). "Garrett Hedlund Joins Coen Bros.’ INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS". Collider.com. Retrieved February 4, 2012. Aaron (November 1, 2011). "John Goodman and Justin Timberlake Join the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis". FilmJunk.com. Retrieved February 4, 2012. "Stark Sands Joins Coen Bros' Inside Llewyn Davis". Cinemablend.com. Retrieved February 11, 2012. Weiss, Keely (April 13, 2012). "Adam Driver, Boy Among Girls". Interview. Retrieved June 17, 2012. "NYCBM Guest, Ethan Phillips". Mike Carbo's New York Comic Book Marketplace. Retrieved June 17, 2012. "Benjamin Pike plays young Bob Dylan in Coen Brothers movie "Inside Llewyn Davis "". Retrieved June 9, 2013.
Set in 1961, Inside Llewyn Davis was inspired by the cultural disconnection within a New York–based music scene where the songs seemed to come from all parts of the United States except New York, but whose performers included Brooklyn-born Dave Van Ronk and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Well before writing the script, the Coens began with a single premise: suppose Van Ronk got beat up outside of Gerde's Folk City in the Village. The filmmakers employed that idea in the opening scenes, then periodically returned to the project over the next couple of years to expand the story around a fictional character. One source for the film was Van Ronk's posthumously published (2005) memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street. According to the book's co-author, Elijah Wald, the Coens mined the work "for local color and a few scenes." The character is a composite of Van Ronk, Elliot, and other performers from the New York boroughs who performed in the Village at that time. Joel Coen remarked that "the film doesn't really have a plot. That concerned us at one point; that's why we threw the cat in."
Shooting was complicated by an early New York spring, which interfered with the bleak winter atmosphere that prevails throughout the film, and by the difficulty of filming several cats, who, unlike dogs, ignore the desires of filmmakers. On the advice of an animal trainer, the Coens put out a casting call for an orange tabby cat, which is sufficiently common that several cats would be available to play one part. Individual cats were then selected for each scene based on what they were predisposed to do on their own.
Producer Scott Rudin, who worked with the Coens on True Grit and No Country for Old Men, collaborated on the project. StudioCanal helped finance it without an American distributor in place. "After shooting in New York City and elsewhere last year...the brothers finished the movie at their own pace", wrote Michael Cieply in a January 2013 The New York Times interview with Joel Coen ahead of a private, pre-Grammys screening in Los Angeles. "They could have rushed it into the Oscar season but didn’t." On February 19, CBS Films announced it had picked up the U.S. domestic distribution rights for about $4 million. StudioCanal has rights to international distribution and foreign sales.
MusicSee also: Inside Llewyn Davis (soundtrack)
Dave Van Ronk's music served as a starting point for the Coens as they wrote the script, and many of the songs first designated for the film were those he had recorded. Van Ronk co-author Elijah Wald said that the character of Llewyn Davis "is not at all Dave, but the music is.” (The cover of Davis's solo album, Inside Llewyn Davis, resembles that of Inside Dave Van Ronk. Both feature the artist in a doorway, wearing a tweed jacket and smoking a cigarette.) Other songs emerged in conversations between the Coens and T-Bone Burnett, who produced the music in association with Marcus Mumford. Burnett previously worked with the Coens on the music and soundtrack for The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the latter of which sold about 8 million copies in the United States. The Coens viewed the music in the Llewyn Davis as a direct descendant of the music in O Brother.
The humorous novelty song "Please Mr. Kennedy", a plea from a reluctant astronaut, appears to be a fourth generation derivative of the 1960 song "Mr. Custer", also known as "Please Mr. Custer", about the Battle of the Little Bighorn, sung by Larry Verne and written by Al DeLory, Fred Darian, and Joseph Van Winkle. A Tamla-Motown single followed in 1961: "Please Mr. Kennedy (I Don't Want to Go)", a plea from a reluctant Vietnam War draftee, sung by Mickey Woods and credited to Berry Gordy, Loucye Wakefield and Ronald Wakefield. In 1962 using a similar theme, The Goldcoast Singers recorded "Please Mr. Kennedy" on its Here They Are album, with writing credits to Ed Rush and George Cromarty. The Llewyn Davis version credits Rush, Cromarty, Burnett, Timberlake, and the Coens.
Isaac, Timberlake, Mulligan, Driver and others performed the music live. The exception was "The Auld Triangle", which was lip-synced, with Timberlake singing bass. (Timberlake's vocal range was on display in the film. Critic Janet Maslin, listening to a soundtrack recording, confused Timberlake's voice with Mulligan's, which she thought resembled that of Mary Travers.)"The Coen Bros. On Writing, 'Lebowski' And Literally Herding Cats". Fresh Air transcript. National Public Radio. December 17, 2013. Wald, Elija. "The World of LLewyn Davis". Inside Llewyn Davis official site. CBS Films. Retrieved September 24, 2013. Cieply, Michael (January 27, 2013). "Macdougal Street Homesick Blues". The New York Times. Retrieved February 20, 2013. Russ Fischer (June 25, 2011). "The Coen Bros. New Script is Based on the 60′s NYC Folk Scene". /Film. Retrieved February 11, 2012. "The New Superstar at Cannes: A Ginger Tom Cat". The Telegraph. Retrieved 11 October 2013. "NYFF51: "Inside Llewyn Davis" Press Conference | The Coen Brothers, ". YouTube. September 29, 2013. "CBS Films Pays $4 Million for Coen Bros.' 'Inside Llewyn Davis'". Billboard. The Hollywood Reporter. February 19, 2013. Retrieved February 20, 2013. "CBS Films Acquires The Coen Brothers' 'Inside Llewyn Davis'" (Press release). CBS Films. February 19, 2013. Retrieved February 20, 2013. Haglund, David. "The People Who Inspired Inside Llewyn Davis". Slate. Retrieved 4 January 2014. Golden, Zara. "What's Real in 'Inside Llewyn Davis': Llewyn Davis' Album Cover Looks Very Familiar". Rolling Stone. Associated Press (May 19, 2013). "Coens' folk revival 'Llewyn' serenades Cannes". The Oklahoman. Jurgensen, John (November 21, 2013). "T Bone Burnett and the Coen Brothers Move the Music Needle". Wall Street Journal. Myers, Mitch (December 3, 2013). "'Inside Llewyn Davis': From General Custer to Mr. Kennedy, the Genesis of a Novelty Song". The Hollywood Reporter. "Inside Llewyn Davis". Nonesuch (track listing). Christgau, Robert (December 4, 2013). "The Lost World of 'Llewyn Davis': Christgau on the Coen Brothers". Rolling Stone. "Inside Llewyn Davis with Production Mixer Peter F. Kurkland". Sound & Picture. February 3, 2014.
Inside Llewyn Davis had its worldwide premiere on May 19, 2013 at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. The film then screened at film festivals, including the New York Film Festival in September, the November 14 close of the 2013 AFI Film Festival, and Torino Film Festival 2013, also in November.
The film had a limited release in the United States on December 6, 2013, where it played in Los Angeles and New York. It opened in 133 additional theaters on December 20 and opened wide on January 10, 2014.
It was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the US on March 11, 2014.
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 94% rating based on 235 reviews, with an average score of 8.6/10. The site's consensus states: "Smart, funny, and profoundly melancholy, Inside Llewyn Davis finds the Coen brothers in fine form." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 92 out of 100, based on 47 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Writing for The Village Voice, Alan Scherstuhl praised the Coen brothers' film: "While often funny and alive with winning performances, Inside Llewyn Davis finds the brothers in a dark mood, exploring the near-inevitable disappointment that faces artists too sincere to compromise--disappointments that the Coens, to their credit, have made a career out of dodging. The result is their most affecting film since the masterful A Serious Man." Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called the film "an outstanding fictional take on the early 1960s folk music scene," praising the "fresh, resonant folk soundtrack" and Oscar Isaac's performance that "deftly manages the task of making Llewyn compulsively watchable."
Folk singers, however, have criticized the movie for misrepresenting the friendliness of the Village folk scene of the time. Terri Thal, Dave Van Ronk's ex-wife, said, "I didn't expect it to be almost unrecognizable as the folk-music world of the early 1960s." Suzanne Vega said "I feel they took a vibrant, crackling, competitive, romantic, communal, crazy, drunken, brawling scene and crumpled it into a slow brown sad movie." The movie was also criticized for the fact that, although it was to some extent based on the memoir of Dave Van Ronk, the film portrayed a character very much at odds with the real Van Ronk, usually described as a "nice guy". However, at a press interview before the film was premiered at Cannes, the Coens had stated that the character itself was very much an original creation, and that the music was the major influence they'd drawn from Van Ronk.