R rated. Now I want to look up if there is a non-R Coen Brothers. Oh...Hudsucker Proxy. (Oh, I'd like to thank my fact checker, Dan, for the litany of non-R Rated Coen Brothers movies.)
DIRECTORS: Joel and Ethan Coen
Is it possible to review a movie when its politics come into direct conflict with yours? I hope it is, but I really don't want to be completely objective. For a story without a formal narrative, one of the major cruxes of the film surrounds the casual nature of abortion. I suppose this gets back into the argument of the purpose of art. I keep coming back to that here and I'm forced to think about it pretty hard. Art is meant to be challenging and often that means that art is not meant to line up with my core values. Perhaps I have unreasonable expectations to art not directly lined up with my particular values, although I honestly think that I hold movies that defend my values up to a great microscope. I had a really hard time with Bella, which provides the opposite viewpoint on abortion, so maybe I'm a decent reviewer.
I'm already coming across as a crazy person. This is not, as a whole, an abortion movie. The movie, like many of the Coen Brothers recent films, is more of an existential crisis in an episodic form. I couldn't help but compare the movie to Hail, Caesar! with an almost non-existent narrative. Let's get this out of the way right now. I love the Coens...overall. But there is an expectation with them that makes my expectations unreasonable. Between this and Hail, Caesar! back-to-back, I feel slightly let down. The tone is very Coen Brothers. Everything that's there screams "Coen", but the content is just missing.
The saving grace of this movie is the music. The movie is promoted as a music movie and I think that's pretty apt. Oscar Isaac has always impressed me with his acting, but the dude's got some pipes. Of course, the Coens are linked with folk / bluegrass, so it's not surprising that the music of choice would be folk. But the music might be the best tonal link to the setting that they are characterizing. There's a good chance that Llewyn Davis might not be the central character, but the setting. 1960s Greenwich Village made a million Llewyn Davises. There is nothing about Davis that makes him particularly remarkable. He has a talent that isn't particularly marketable. That constant rejection makes him a huge jerk, but he is never particularly evil or despicable. Relatable? Yes. Milktoast? Kind of.
Perhaps, and this is a surprise to no one, the most interesting aspect of the movie was John Goodman's character. I vacillate between thinking that the character is remarkably layered and thinking that he is a two-dimensional jerk. But that road trip is pretty typical of the Coens dealing with an existential crisis. The symbolism of the cat is pretty overt, yet extremely effective. SPOILERS. I have to defend the use of the cat because the imagery of the cat hit by the car is actually extremely haunting. I'm not a pet person and I roll my eyes when animals are used to elicit emotion, but how quickly it happened was shocking. That was the cold reality of death. The suddenness of it was an expert moment. So I could be giving the rest of the movie all of the business, but those few minute on the cold isolated road were some of the most powerful that I'd seen in film in a while.
Perhaps the only thing I can take away from this movie is that it isn't up to the snuff of the Coen Brothers' other movies. That might make this more about me than anything else. I want it to be beautiful and all I got were some interesting emotions. The movie is kind of boring, treats abortion casually, plays some awesome music, and makes 1960s Greenwich Village as a character. But at the end of the day, I'm still the same. I'm more depressed, but lots of things do that.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.