New Review Of Old Movies: Inside Llewyn Davis

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How do I love thee, Inside Llewyn Davis? Is it the unbridled chemistry, the catchy music, the skimpy costumes, the massive watermelons? No, it’s really not. Every time I try to think about Llewyn, I think Baby. I think Johnny. I don’t know how old I was when I first loaded the VHS of Dirty Dancing, but it was the first time I’d seen anything like it — the unexpected pregnancy, the illegal abortion, and all those close-ups of grinding pelvises. But you know all about this.

Everything, absolutely everything about Dirty Dancing pops right into the mind as soon as someone says, “Come here, loverboy,” which I hope happens to you with unnerving frequency.

But what do you know about the Coen Brothers’ 2013 film starring Oscar Isaac in the title role? The film teems with sad things, unlucky moments, missed opportunities, misplaced efforts, and so much sleeping on couches. Maybe you remember that this one also features an unexpected pregnancy and the accompanying illegal abortion. Maybe you noticed that no one calls Llewyn “loverboy.” Do you recall the scene when struggling folk-singer Llewyn Davis leaves the stage after his set, and the next performer, whom we can’t see, begins singing and his voice sure sounds like Bob Dylan’s? If you hadn’t figured it out yet, that’s a good time to realize Llewyn will never, ever make it.

I still love it, though. Remember how the Kellerman’s song ends mid-sentence, on the word “the”? And I have a huge soft spot for Kellerman’s, the resort where Baby and her family are staying thanks to her heart-doctor father saving the owner’s life — as if I need to explain the plot to you, I who have digressed yet again.

But I love Dirty Dancing the way I love Grease, a movie I’d been manually plopped in front of many times when my parents and I visited my dad’s brother. This one I watched on laserdisc because, as I understood it, my uncle was rich. Why didn’t I love Inside Llewyn Davis? I swooned over Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Big Lebowski. I like folk music. I listened to “Man of Constant Sorrow” well before George Clooney’s eyebrows took to the screen. And in fact, I do like the music Llewyn sings. I just have to close my eyes to like it.

Here’s what I’m saying: Some day, you might think, in a moment of nostalgia, Oh, I missed this film when it first came out. I’ll watch it now. But what you really want is something you know you like, even if the plot is as thin as a Girl Scout cookie. There’s no need to judge yourself, or to parse the nostalgia from everything else you feel about it. That would be like trying to take the seeds out of a strawberry before you eat it. Ridiculous.

What could be better than the Catskills, the ’60s, the vacationing rich people, the log dance, the hula, the corner, the lift, the contrast between the surface — so convincing in its way — and what people truly desire and need? 

Is it foxtrot lessons? Tell me it is.

Tell me again.