Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver
Oscar Nominations: Best Cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel), Best Sound Mixing (Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland)
SUMMARY: Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a struggling folk singer living in New York in 1961. Llewyn was previously part of a duet, but his partner, Mike Timlin, committed suicide; Llewyn then tried to start a career as a solo artist, but is not having much success. Without any money, he is unable to afford a place of his own, so he travels from friend to friend, spending the nights on their couches. Two of these friends are the Gorfeins, a middle-aged couple who adore Llewyn and his music. When Llewyn leaves their apartment one morning, he accidentally lets out their cat; he catches the cat, but finds himself locked out of the apartment. He is forced to take the cat with him to another couple’s apartment, that of Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan) Berkey. Jim is also a musician, rather more successfully than Llewyn, and the two men are friends. Jean seemingly cannot stand Llewyn, and tells him at every opportunity. After an argument, she agrees to let him stay there for the night (with the cat), but she also irately tells him that she is pregnant. Despite her apparent hatred for Llewyn, Jean has had a brief affair with him, and thinks that he may be the father. With no way to know for sure if it is Llewyn’s or Jim’s, she wants to get an abortion, and wants Llewyn to pay for it. That same morning, the cat escapes from Jean’s apartment, and Llewyn is unable to find it on the street. Llewyn tries to borrow money from his sister for the abortion, but she refuses to lend him any more; she suggests that he rejoin the Merchant Marine, as his musical career is not producing any money. Ironically, it is Jim who comes through with an opportunity for Llewyn: he is recording a novelty song, and wants Llewyn to play backup. Llewyn wants to get paid immediately, and agrees to take cash instead of royalties. He then goes to the doctor’s to arrange the abortion, and learns that a previous girlfriend, who also had an abortion, actually canceled the appointment and kept the baby, then moved to Ohio without telling him.
Llewyn meets Jean at a restaurant to tell her about the appointment, when he suddenly spots the Gorfeins’ cat outside. He takes it back to the couple that evening — only to discover that it is not the right cat. After getting into a disagreement with the couple, Llewyn takes the cat and leaves. He decides to try his luck in Chicago and gets a ride with poet Johnny Five and jazz musician Roland Turner (John Goodman). Johnny Five says almost nothing during the drive, while Turner alternates between sleeping and loudly and obnoxiously talking. Llewyn later realizes that Turner is taking drugs, but the real trouble occurs when the group is pulled over and the officer thinks that Johnny (who is driving) has been drinking. Johnny fights the officer, and is subsequently dragged off, leaving Llewyn and the cat with a passed-out Turner. Llewyn continues his journey alone, and when he gets to Chicago he auditions for a club manager. The manager rejects Llewyn as a solo artist but offers him a backup part in a trio he is organizing; Llewyn refuses, and heads back to New York. When he arrives, he decides to give up on his music and rejoin the Merchant Marine. Before he can do so, he has to pay his back dues, which nearly wipes him out., when he tries to retrieve his license, he finds that his sister has accidentally thrown it out. Without the license, he cannot sail, but he also cannot get back the money he paid for the dues. He goes to see Jean again, and learns that she has arranged a gig for him. When he goes to talk to the club owner, Llewyn learns that he has also slept with Jean. This causes him to snap, and he begins yelling insults at the woman on stage. In the evening he goes to the Gorfeins’ and apologizes, and they agree to let him stay. Surprisingly, their real cat has come home by itself. The next day Llewyn plays his gig as scheduled. He is then told that a friend is waiting outside; as he walks out, he sees a young man named Bob Dylan start his own gig. The “friend” waiting outside turns out to be the husband of the woman Llewyn heckled the day before, who now viciously beats Llewyn up, then leaves in a taxi.
MY TAKE: This is one of those movies that doesn’t seem to have any real plot, which irritates the hell out of me. It’s really well-done (it’s written and directed by the Coen brothers, so that’s no surprise), but the overall plot is as aimless as Llewyn’s life. He seems very beaten down and discouraged by his situation, but also doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of drive to change that situation. I can understand not wanting to give up your music career, but get a day job so you can support yourself and not mooch off your friends for years at a time. The bright spot for me was Jean, who is wickedly sarcastic and acerbic. She often goes into these diatribes against Llewyn, which always come back to the fact that he is an asshole. This was part of the reason I was so shocked that she’d had an affair with him (although this could contribute to her opinion of him): the other reason is that she’s married to Justin Timberlake, and I just have a hard time imagining somebody cheating on him. It wasn’t a horrible movie, it just didn’t seem like there was a point to things. It definitely wasn’t Fargo.