A few years ago, Tom Waits did a spot on The Daily Show with John Stewart. Before the taping began, Tom was using the men’s room at the television studio, and the bathroom roof fell in on him. In some ways, this seems like the sort of thing that could only happen to Tom Waits. In both his demeanour and his artistic output, he comes across as a grizzled, weary, and down-on-his-luck. Why would anyone be drawn to someone so sad-sack and alone?
Inside Llewyn Davis spends one week in the life of its titular hero (Oscar Isaacs), a folk singer in 1961 New York City. As the film begins, we are given a clear picture of what sort of singer he is. While some of his contemporaries are singing plucky tunes bound for AM radio play, he takes to smokey stages in dank clubs singing from the point of view of a criminal about to be hanged.
Llewyn is talented, there’s no denying that. Sadly, he’s also broke. After his first performance in the film, he awakes on the couch of The Gorfeins – music appreciators that open their Upper West Side apartment to Llewyn when he needs a hand up (which is often). As he goes to leave, The Gorfeins’ cat slips out. Unable to get the cat back home, Llewyn scoops it up and begins looking after it until he can return it.
That’s Llewyn in a nutshell: locked out of the last place he called home, holding more baggage than he carried walking in.
Llewyn’s week will find him crossing paths with friends and family. Most reach out their hand to help him, but few help him for long, and few help him to the extent that he needs. With his musical career stuck in neutral, his greatest need is monetary. Besides not having a place of his own, he cannot even afford a winter coat. Slowly, Llewyn is becoming less and less of a folk singer than he is becoming a character in one of his own songs.
As a greater need for money crops up with an old friend (who now mostly hates him), Llewyn hits the bricks with his guitar and cat in hand hoping he and get something going. Of course, if he’d listened to the lyrics in the songs he sings so often, he’d know exactly how his mission will play out.