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review roundup

Inside Llewyn Davis Review Roundup: The Critics Are Crazy for That Cat

No discussion of Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen brothers' new film (which opens today in limited release), is complete without a mention of its furriest supporting character: Ulysses, a handsome ginger tomcat. The film follows a week in the life of a struggling early-sixties folk singer named Llewyn Davis, who, early in the film, crashes at a friend's house and accidentally allows his cat to escape. This wily feline disappears and reappears at various points throughout Llewyn’s journey, serving as a cryptic, adorable narrative device. Like many of the Coens’ symbols, the deeper meaning behind Llewyn’s furry friend is left up to interpretation. Is Ulysses a metaphor for Davis's epic Homeric journey, his furry spirit guide, or perhaps a proxy for Messrs Joel and Ethan themselves? Whatever it is, the critics all agree on one thing: It’s a really good kitty. (Makes us feel a little buzz-kill-y to note that the Coens told Vulture that the cats they used to play Ulysses were a pain in the ass.)

“There’s a cat that Llewyn keeps losing and finding and losing — the running gag has a two-pronged punch line, one tragic, the other absurdly triumphant.”
— David Edelstein, New York

“About that cat: Ulysses, the chilled-out tabby, which Llewyn discovers on his bed one morning and feels an amusingly inexplicable bond, immediately secures its place as a seminal character in the Coen brothers' universe. Its affectionate presence forms the only source of calm in Llewyn's unruly existence. While essentially a quirky device that leads to several comedic interludes, Ulysses is also a kind of proxy for the Coens themselves, peering into a world in which a few bizarre twists push the narrative in allegorical or otherwise irreverent directions.”
— Eric Kohn, Indiewire

“Why was it, then, that I was bawling at the five-minute mark during Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis? The story hadn’t started. I didn’t even know anyone’s name. Was it the cat? Well, yes, it might have partially been the cat. If you remember Gabriel Byrne’s Tom Reagan chasing his hat in Miller’s Crossing, that tune is reprised only this time it’s a cat and he does more than just run away.”
— Jordan Hoffman, film.com

“The movie features one of the finest marmalade-cat performances since The Long Goodbye. (Technically, we're talking about several cats, but let's look the other way for the sake of movie magic.)”
— Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice

“I can say clearly that Inside Llewyn Davis is a shaggy-dog parable — actually, a shaggy-cat parable — about the troubled relationship between art and commerce, that’s loaded with colorful supporting characters and bits of hilarious business.”
— Andrew O'Hehir, Salon

“The Coens have a fondness for shaggy-dog stories, and, on this occasion, the dog duties are handed to an unshaggy marmalade cat. It leads Llewyn a merry, if exasperated, dance through the city; watch its eyes, widening in wonder as it travels by subway and sees the names of the stations flash by.”
— Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

A shameless scene-stealer.”
— Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“There’s a wisp of a subplot that floats into and out of the story involving an orange tabby cat named Ulysses (whose Homeric name lends a quasi-epic dimension to the journey he and Llewyn will later undertake). This intrepid animal escapes from [his friends'] apartment early on and proceeds to reappear — but wait, is it the same cat?—at various key moments in Llewyn’s life, seeming at once to solicit his care and to sit in judgment of his many moral failings. I think the cat’s (or cats’) fate is connected in some way to the puzzling temporal relationship between those opening and closing scenes at the Gaslight, but after two viewings, I still haven’t figured out quite how — another of the many enchanting ambiguities of Inside Llewyn Davis.”
— Dana Stevens, Slate

“An ingenious running joke about a runaway cat hints that a more conventionally heroic narrative may be unfolding elsewhere”
— Robbie Collin, Telegraph

“For the remainder of Inside Llewyn Davis, this uncooperative animal seems to be leading Llewyn from one strange adventure to the next, like a beatnik Leopold Bloom on the trail of a feline Stephen Dedalus.”
— Scott Foundas, Variety

“One alleyway beating later and Davis is on the first of many couches — that of his uptown intellectual friends the Gorfeins, whose orange tabby will prove a constant frustration, as well as our sad-sack hero's mischievous spirit guide.”
— Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York

 “... he's saddled carrying the Gorfeins' cat after it escapes out the door, and accidentally locks the door behind him after staying the night (a great running gag that eventually turns into a lovely metaphor for Llewyn's journey)”
— Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist

“For ostensible continuity, the brothers summon that darn cat to materialize or vanish at intervals. This is a device unworthy of the brothers’ usual ingenuity, though it does link Inside Llewyn Davis to another 1961 pop-cultural artifact: the film of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in which the true soulmate of Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) is a cat named Cat.”
— Richard Corliss, Time