Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Born Loser

The Coen brothers love losers.

I can't believe it took me this long to figure that out, but the Coens clearly have a soft spot in their hearts for individuals who try desperately to achieve success and yet fail. Barton Fink, Larry Gopnik, Ed Crane and even Sheriff Tommy Lee Jones... all characters who reached for something and yet fell short of their goal. Occasionally they make a movie about a "loser" who actually wins (Hudsucker Proxy, True Grit, O Brother Where Art Thou, etc) but those seem to be the exception rather than the rule and oftentimes their accomplishment comes more from luck than from their own ingenuity, skill or intelligence. In a cinematic landscape filled with protagonists who defy all odds to win the day, the Coens' focus on those who end up with the short end of the stick is rather refreshing.

 Llewyn Davis is the latest in a long line of Coen losers. He navigates New York's 1960's folk music scene trying to break through but never quite getting there. It's not because he's bad. Indeed he's quite good and we get many opportunities to see him play (the film could almost be considered a musical), but for whatever reason fame and recognition elude him. Is it cosmic justice for the numerous poor decisions he makes along the way (sleeping with his friend's wife, antagonizing his few friends, behaving selfishly and acting just generally self-destructive; in many ways he's his own worst enemy) or is it just bad luck? You don't get discovered but the guy who goes onstage after you becomes a huge sensation (just as some lost cats find their way home and others just wander the wilderness). The movie never tells us.

I love the Coen brothers and I loved Inside Llewyn Davis. It is, like all of their films, impeccably constructed with some great images (the look of the film has a subtle, melancholy beauty), colorful characters played perfectly by a fine cast, fantastic music (yet another soundtrack I'm going to gave to buy) and some truly hilarious moments. While not perhaps their best film (although lately I find ranking there movies a virtually impossible task), I'd dare say it's one of the best films of 2013.

 That's what I got.