Hi there! We’re shaking things up a bit in ShuGar Love land and reviewing two movies this week. There is a method to my madness, so trust me! My feelings about both of these movies are similar, therefore, in the interest of time (The Oscars are coming!), I decided to do a double feature post.
Let’s start with Inside Llewyn Davis, shall we? This film is a period piece taking place in 1961 during the folk musical scene of Greenwich Village, way before Bob Dylan was ever a household name. The movie follows Llewyn Davis (starring Oscar Isaac) as a struggling folk singer playing gig after gig, while crashing on “friends'” couches to survive in between his jam sessions. What makes his life excruciatingly bleak is not so much that he doesn’t have a home or cannot afford a decent meal or not even the fact that New York was having a bitter winter that year, but instead it’s the lack of musical prospects in Llewyn’s life. Music is his life.
Directed and written by the talented Coen Brothers, this musical film reminded me of the odyssey of O Brother, Where Art Thou?. You can say it was its darker cousin of sorts. The movie takes us on Llewyn’s journey to attempt to be “discovered”, either in one of the clubs he plays or by a music big shot he visits. Music is in Llewyn’s soul and he has the talents to be famous. His voice is incredible and the lyrics are powerful. He had a musical partner, who committed suicide, so now Llewyn finds himself alone with few friends and zero musical prospects.
He appears to have a friend in Jim (played by Justin Timberlake) and Jean (played by Carey Mulligan), since he crashes in their apartment for some days. (Tangent – I have a big girl crush on Carey!) I say “appears” because Jean seems to have a strong disdain for Llewyn, especially when she finds out she is pregnant with Llewyn’s child. Of course, Jim knows nothing of this affair.
One of my favorite scenes of the movie is when Jean and Jim and another fellow drifter perform a folk song that has the most beautiful melody. See for yourself below.
Simple. Touching. The movie has an overall somber tone, which you can see in the weather and also in the colors in each scene, which contain touches of greys and browns. I wish I could say the rest of the movie inspired me in some way, especially since the soundtrack is so rich. However, I was disappointed overall in this film.
How disappointed you may ask? So much so that I fell asleep somewhere in the middle and woke up for the end. It might be my preggo energy these days, but it hasn’t really happened with other movies so I believe it had more to do with the movie itself. If it had captivated me, I know ShuGar Boy and I would have stayed awake. I felt all the characters were one-dimensional and there was really no character arch in any of them. Now, I don’t think there always needs to be any sort of major character shift in every film, but I do believe that there should be nuances in characters to make them human. Instead, most characters in this film, besides Jim and some other good samaritans, were all unlikable. In fact, Jean seemed so bitchy the entire time. It just seemed so forced.
I have no doubt in the Coen brothers’ talent. Let me be clear about that. They are beyond film gods and they deserve credit for an original film about a topic that really is a part of our American fabric. In addition, what I love about this film and other Coen films is the recognizable tone you can see as a hallmark of the Coen brothers. There’s just something in each of their films that makes you say, “That’s a Coen brothers creation.” Nevertheless, this movie felt flat to me; I wanted more. I would have stayed awake if I felt there was some progress in any direction or even some a larger reflection about music, life etc. The film overall left me a sense of void inside.
Now, let’s discuss Nebraska. Written by Bob Nelson and directed by the talented Alexander Payne, the film is the story of a dysfunctional relationship between father and son and how, as the years go by, one’s parents begin to age and become almost like children. Woody (starring Bruce Dern) hasn’t been the greatest of fathers to his sons, David (played by Will Forte and Ross (played by Bob Odenkirk). It appears that Woody is suffering from the beginnings of dimentia, which makes his wife, Kate (played by June Squibb) very frustrated because she is fed up with taking care of her stubborn husband. Woody defines a crumudgeon and, to make matters worse, is an alcoholic whose bitterness is apparent with every interaction he has with his wife and sons.
David has more sympathy for his father, than do his mother Kate and his brother Ross. They are both tired of Woody’s antics and are ready to take Woody to a retirement home. Woody’s latest obsession involves him visiting Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his winnings from a $1 million dollar sweepstakes letter he received in the mail. Of course, the entire family knows the mail is just junk and Woody hasn’t really won $1 million dollars. However, Woody remains obstinate and runs away several times to walk to Nebraska if no one takes him. It places the entire family in a stressful position as they grapple with what to do with their ailing father.
As the dutiful son, David decides to drive Woody to Nebraska to satisfy his dad’s dream of winning the cash. The movie then continues on their journey to Lincoln where they stop at Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne to visit Woody’s family. If you thought Woody and his family were dysfunctional, you can see a whole other level of crazy with Woody’s brother’s family. In Hawthorne, father and son find themselves meeting with ghosts from Woody’s past and David learns more about who his father was before he got married and had children.
During the roadtrip, you get a sense of the dismal father figure that Woody has been for his sons. Yet, children always seek love from their parents and you can see that in David. Below is the scene where David discovers why Woody ran away in search for his $1 million dollars.
I love the premise of this movie; we can all identify with parents who are getting older and may not be who they once were. However, much like Inside Llewyn Davis, I felt the movie really went nowhere and the characters were unrealistic and unlikeable. You had brief moments of tenderness between father and son, but, in general, Woody was cranky the entire movie. He almost didn’t seem human and the cruelty towards his son gets old after a while. How many times do we have to see Woody verbally mistreating his son? I found it overkill and unnecessary after the first hour.
David does develop further, slightly, but his character also seems somewhat contrived. I felt like he was a doormat for the majority of the movie. What I didn’t enjoy was that the movie didn’t have any message for me. It wouldn’t have to be an uplifting message, but I just got the sense that the film ended the way it started. I admire Alexander Payne so much and my favorite film of his is Sideways. A film gem. For purposes of this film, it takes a daring filmmaker to make a movie entirely in black and white. Yet, I feel black and white should be to enhance the meaning of the movie; I didn’t feel like it was necessary for this film. It made it even more empty.
Plus, I have another confession: I fell asleep for this one too! Somewhere in the middle of the movie, I couldn’t take it anymore and ShuGar Boy and I dozed off.
Coincidence you ask with Inside Llewyn Davis? I don’t think so. If the movies had given me something compelling, story-worthy, or inspirational, I probably would have stayed awake. It’s strange because I enjoy films by both filmmakers in general, I just think that these two films fell short of their potential. I’ve seen better from both of them. I know they are both nominated for Oscars, but they are by far my first choice for best picture. I must say that Mr. ShuGar enjoyed these films much more than I did. He saw something I didn’t see and that’s ok.
Both movies had a lot of potential because of the talented filmmakers and cast. Yet, I found myself wanting to walk out of both movies because, frankly, I was so bored. I couldn’t take another woe-is-me look from Llewyn. I got tired of his attitude. Similarly, I was not a big fan of Woody’s character; It seemed like the writers were trying really hard to make him into a grumpy old man. His character reminded me of the enemy protagonist in any Disney film. I couldn’t stand the constant complaining and bitter attitude he portrayed throughout the film.
Maybe I am not as sophisticated in my film analysis, but I know what I like and these two films are not it. In both films, the main protagonists are in search of something and can’t seem to catch a break in their quest. Yet, I don’t enjoy being on their quests. They both had aspects of their personalities which frankly annoyed me and made me want to take a nap. When I watch a movie, I want to escape and enter another world. These two worlds seemed unreal in a bad way since the characters all lacked any real substance. Ultimately, for both films, the stories just seemed forced and the characters were devoid of any depth. I fell asleep in both movies because the films failed to draw me in and engage my preggo attention.
Mrs. ShuGar gives Inside Llewyn Davis and Nebraska 2.5 out of 5 hearts.
Have you seen either of these films? What did you think? Do you think they are both Oscar worthy? If you’ve never seen or heard about them, do you have any interest in seeing them?
Aren’t these alternative posters for both movies kind of rad? Have a fun weekend!