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Justin Timberlake: I’m a mediocre folk singer!

CANNES, France – In the Coen brothers’ new movie “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the unquestioned smash hit of this festival so far, Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan play key supporting roles as Jim and Jean Berkey, a folk-singing couple in early-1960s Greenwich Village. Jim and Jean are a bit more clean-cut and success-oriented than their downcast, couch-surfing and considerably more talented friend Llewyn, played by Oscar Isaac in the year’s biggest breakout performance. Llewyn threatens to expose not merely their agreeable mediocrity but also the flaws in their marriage; he has slept with Jean and may have gotten her pregnant. Who’s he going to borrow money from to pay for the illegal abortion? Take a wild guess.

This movie is a delicate balance between comedy and drama, and these characters are, too. Timberlake’s Jim is a genial, basically lovely guy who has the sense that something is changing in New York’s insular folk scene, though he doesn’t quite know what. Timberlake helped compose and arrange the profoundly silly and ludicrously catchy novelty song Jim writes in the movie (“Please Mr. Kennedy”), which will probably earn him more money than Llewyn’s earnest, somber folk-purist approach will earn in a lifetime. Jean, on the other hand, is a ferociously driven woman trapped in the era just before American feminism, when even in the folk-beat world a wife’s role was first and foremost that of servant and helpmeet.

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