I almost didn’t post this reflection, feeling like it was too small, but when I saw this ad in the Los Angeles Times today, I couldn’t help myself. If I can save just one of you from sharing my misadventure in movie choice, it will be worth the risk of coming across as completely uncool. I cringe already as I think of my hippest friends, musicians, artists and filmmakers, alike saying,
“You didn’t like the latest Coen brother’s film? What’s wrong with you?”
On the night after Christmas, Tim and I had a rare opportunity to go on a date night with my sister and her husband. A movie was on the docket after our dinner at Eat Chow and three contenders were up: American Hustle, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Inside Llewyn Davis. The Coen brothers won, but ultimately, we lost: $20 and two hours of precious time.
I would offer a spoiler alert, but there is nothing to spoil. Nothing happens.
Let me rephrase that. Nothing happens that we care about.
Sure, Llewyn has a life. It’s just not a life you’d pay to watch. I’d pay to listen to him on stage. The music is phenomenal, but the character and the film is crap. He gets women pregnant, pays for abortions, sleeps on couches, drinks too much, takes advantage of friends and then blows up at them. He is smug and scornful of everyone surrounding him. None of those things necessarily preclude him from being a character I root for. The problem is that he doesn’t learn from any of it. He deliberately misses opportunities to do the right thing, or make a decent choice. Even when he tries to do right, it usually turns out all wrong. Basically he’s a prick, who doesn’t have the ability, or desire to be anything different. We all know guys like that, but we certainly don’t pay to watch them in action.
Tim and I needed to cleanse our palate, so we snuck away on Saturday morning and saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. This time, we were thrilled, perhaps overcompensating a bit for the debacle of Llewyn’s life. Walter is a man with a small life, trading it in for big daydreams. He “zones out,” content to imagine whom he might be. But when life amps up its inevitable challenges and Llewyn is content to stew in his inadequacies, Walter finally is not. He will step outside of himself, get on a plane, stand up to the bully, speak to the girl. Standard Hollywood fare perhaps, but well-done, beautifully shot, clever and compared to the Coens’ work, a relief.
Don’t get me wrong. I love art house films. I don’t need happy endings, or easy answers. Not every death needs to be followed by a resurrection, but offering viewers some way to connect, or empathize with the protagonist or villain is almost a requisite for a film to be worth watching (in my mind) and the Coen brothers didn’t provide it this time around.
Ironically, we chose the Coens’ film because of the critical reviews. Raves all around, but as I walked out of the theater, all I could think was that the emperor had no clothes. 93% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes told audiences to go, but I can’t believe 93% of the critics who watched this film and thought it was worth watching. I imagine at least half of them walked out as dumbstruck and disappointed as we were, but were also too afraid to admit it.
So be it. At the risk of coming across as naïve and uncultured, don’t go see Inside Llewyn Davis. Save yourself some time and money; if you like folk music, buy the soundtrack instead.