Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Inside a Review of Inside Llewyn Davis

Local reviewer George Grella seems to want to set himself apart from reviewers giving "the sort of critical praise usually reserved for the great monuments of the cinema -- films along the line of 'Grand Illusion' and 'Citizen Kane'" — Film Review: "Inside Llewyn Davis". (Here's my nondescriptly titled 2005 review of the former film mentioned — This Afternoon's DVD Pick.)

Mr. Grella begings by praising the directors' "fondness for locating their work in a particular time and place" and "kind of determined quirkiness, a consistent attraction toward the slightly offbeat and askew," but then describes "one of the most annoying elements of the Coens' work: a tendency to mock their own subjects, to parody the forms they imitate, to make fun of their characters." A fair criticism — I did not like Raising Arizona (1987) for this very reason — but one that I think is not applicable to this film.

I did not get the sense that the film's "protagonist, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), behaves like one of the hapless targets of the Coens' sometimes nasty mockery. "There is plenty of well-deserved mockery, but it is directed at the minor characters, who ridiculousness serves in counterpoint to demonstrate that the seriousness and unrecognized worth of the protagonist, whom I described in my mini-review of Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) as literally being just "a few moments ahead of his time in last moments of the pre-Bob Dylan era."

I think the real issue Mr. Grella had with the film is revealed in his last sentence, in which he states that "after all the alternately whiny, nasal, falsetto lyrics about love and loss and such matters and the repetitive music, I don't think I really want to hear another folk song for a long, long time." I heard nothing "whiny, nasal, falsetto" in Oscar Isaac frankly impressive vocals, nor was there anything "repetitive" in the varied songs he sang, which spanned the Anglo-American folk tradition. Mr. Grella just seems to have a tin ear for such music.

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