Film Review: Inside Llewyn DavisIBTimes UK

Alan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan – these are the names that come to mind when you think of the late 50s/early 60s beat generation that blossomed in New York's Greenwich Village.

But what of the artists who didn't make it? That's the question asked by the Coen Brothers in their latest movie, Inside Llewyn Davis, which charts the efforts of a folk singer as he struggles to make ends meet in 1960s New York.

This richly realised drama from the Coens is both a thoughtful examination of a period often overlooked, and a melancholic story about the struggles artists go through to achieve success without losing their soul.

The film follows Llewyn Davis, a restless folk musician, played excellently here by Oscar Isaac, as he goes about his day to day life struggling to get the big break from his music to take him to stardom. His stubborn arrogance alienates those around him, including friends Jim and Jean, played by Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan.

He's a man who's clearly got the talent, but not the personality to succeed, travelling both along the wintry streets of New York and across the country without really going anywhere.

If this sounds like a rather depressing affair then don't worry, as the Coen Brothers keep you enthralled with some sharp comedy, and as you'd expect of a film set around the New York folk scene, a terrific soundtrack.

With pretty much all the songs recorded live, it's Isaac in particular who captivates when performing. His rendition of Dave Van Ronk's Hang Me, Oh Hang Me at the Gaslight Café that opens the film, and his intimate take on Ewan MacColl's The Shoals of Herring in front of his senile father, are both great melodic moments that offer respite for Llewyn from the harsh outside world.

The filmmaker's deadpan humour is similarly infused throughout the film, with Llewyn's struggles looking after a cat, the appearance of Stark Sands' clean cloth army musician, and John Goodman's turn as an unpleasant jazz musician addicted to heroin raising a lot of laughs.

But for the most part this is a mature and sombre piece by the Coens, a companion to A Serious Man that focuses on a cursed character who feels the world is working against them. But whilst A Serious Man dealt with a crisis of faith in the face of suffering, here the film seems to preach the difficulties of soldiering on in life alone.

Llewyn is a man who resists companionship, and tries to make is as a solo performer, but ends up isolated and lost at sea. From two filmmakers whose success stems from working together, it's easy to see where the inspiration for such a story comes from.