December 20, 2013 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: Coen brothers' 'Inside Llewyn Davis' fare rises above flaws

Oscar Isaac plays a down-on-his-luck folksinger in early 1960s Greenwich Village depending on the kindness of strangers. (CBS Films)

‘Inside Llewyn Davis” is a typically odd and sharp Coen brothers film that takes a wrong turn while going around in circles.

The circles are not a problem — somehow the film ends where it began, which reflects the static life of its lead character. The wrong turn — a needlessly long road trip with a juicy center — isn’t fatal. It’s just a flaw.

But then Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is pretty flawed himself. A folksinger in early ’60s Greenwich Village, Llewyn was once part of a successful duo, but his former partner killed himself. These days he spends his nights on couches, depending on the kindness of strangers and patsies, although Llewyn himself shows very little kindness to anyone.

Some have grown sick of him, most notably Jean (a hilariously angry Carey Mulligan), who’s pregnant with a child that may be Llewyn’s. Or it may be the child of her singing partner and husband, Jim (Justin Timberlake). Either way, she’s abortion-bound and doesn’t want Llewyn on the couch.

Others are more tolerant, notably his upscale fans, the Gorfeins (Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett), who introduce Llewyn to all sorts of Coenesquely bizarre people. Llewyn ends up carrying their cat around through the movie in another typically odd Coens move.

The film nails the feel of the early folk music scene and Llewyn’s disdain for his peers. And it captures the resentful haughtiness of the unsuccessful artist. But a road trip to Chicago feels like filler until Llewyn gets to sing for an impresario (F. Murray Abraham) who promptly pops his balloon.

In the end you feel Llewyn’s pain even as you realize he is a pain. Llewyn Davis is nobody you’d want to be inside.

'Inside Llewyn Davis'

GRADE: B

Rated R for language including some sexual references

Running time: 105 minutes

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