I hate biopics. It’s a genre which equalizes the lives of fascinating people and squeezes them into easy narrative patterns. Gandhi, Walk the Line, Ray and the like presume to tell you why their protagonists achieved greatness. That’s their common goal, which demands a similar narrative, laced with clichés.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a biopic about the fictional opening act of Bob Dylan.
It’s not a movie about Dylan, the man who succeeded to change the face of folk music and molded it in his own, unique design mind you. It’s a movie about someone who was unable to do just that. On the stage sits Llewyn Davis, who sings his heart out and will nevertheless be forgotten.
Llewyn Davis, as invented by the Coen brothers and played absolutely brilliantly by , is a very talented musician who obviously puts a lot of himself into his music. After all his solo album is called Inside Llewyn Davis.
The likewise titled movie is a sort of colonoscopy (he is called an asshole now and then...) of his soul.
Here's a dude who tries to be successful as a folk singer yet hates the attitude of folk music. He can neither connect to his audience as a musician, nor can he connect to the people around him. For intance: Jean (), a girl he impregnated reacts to his declaration of love with little more than a shrug.
The most devastating moment in the movie is a different one though. It’s the scene in which Llewyn auditions for an influential music producer, played by Oscar winner (with so much precision that I wanted to ask the good man: "what the f*ck have you been doing since Amadeus!").
The scene represents Llewyn's big shot at glory. He could leave the audition, contract and (comparatively) safe future in hand. What does he choose to play in this crucial moment? He selects 'The Death of Queen Jane,' a stark, incredibly sad ballad.
Isaac’s performance is pitch-perfect throughout the film, but during the full rendition of the song it becomes heartbreaking (I truly resent it when somebody has that many talents!). As with all the other songs performed in the movie Joel and Ethan Coen allow you to take the whole thing in. No cutting away, no montage: It’s just Llewyn Davis crooning his heart out.
Grossman doesn’t exactly hate what he hears but he also doesn’t see much money in it - something Llewyn Davis must have known. 'Queen Jane' might be many things: commercial it ain't. Especially if you compare it to the song 'Please Mr. Kennedy' which we heard before, and which epitomizes what a folk song hit is in the movie.
But the producer asked him to perform something from 'Inside Llewyn Davis' – and voilà: that’s what he got!
Inside Llewyn Davis might not be the Coen’s funniest (how could it with Big Lebowski on that list), narratively daring, or brilliant movie. But I found it by far their most touching.
When the titular singer ends his final performance with the words "That’s all I got," that’s not meant strictly as a statement concerning the lack of further song.
What he got might not be enough to become Bob Dylan. But it sure suffices for rendering him one of the greatest characters in the Coen brother pantheon.
That’s an awful lot.