Hey Girl, Ryan Gosling's Directorial Debut Is As Bad As They Say It Is
Hey girl, wanna go see a movie that stylishly tells a fantastical story of urban decay in post-recession America while unabashedly wearing its influences on its sleeve? Then maybe you'd be interested in Lost River, the directorial debut of Ryan Gosling.
Obviously inspired by the films he made with his BFF, director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive and Only God Forgives), Gosling's first project in the director's chair is an ambitious one. Shot in where else but Detroit, the San Fernando Valley of ruin porn, Iain De Caestecker stars as a young man named Bones, who strips copper from abandoned buildings to make ends meet for his younger brother and single mom Billy (Christina Hendricks). Bones inadvertently draws the ire of Bully (Matt Smith), whose preferred weapon of vengeance is a pair of scissors he uses to cut off people's lips. Saoirse Ronan also shows up as the damsel in distress across the street named Rat who has a...wait for it...pet rat.
Needing to save their house from foreclosure and demolition, Lost River takes a turn into Italian giallo horror when Billy is recruited by an unscrupulous and predatory banker (Ben Mendelsohn) to work at his horror-themed cabaret. After being shown the ropes by club veteran Cat (Eva Mendes), Billy's act includes a performance where she appears to peel the skin off her face.
Gosling borrows from numerous directors throughout Lost River—you don't have to look hard to know the club is a nod to David Lynch's nightclubs of the American id or realize the bucolic scenes of domesticity ape Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life. Appropriating or being influenced by notable filmmakers is not a sin, per se. Refn successfully does so in such movies as Drive, where he's able to wield genre style for intoxicating results. Lost River's problem, among many, is that Gosling has created a stylish, handsome-looking movie whose images carry no weight. The reappropriation of previous films feels secondhand—as if Refn's remixing of familiar tropes was further watered down into Tumblr gifs. Even more problematic is Gosling's quasi-pornographic depiction of financial ruin. With a talented director of photography in Benoît Debie (Enter The Void, Spring Breakers), POV shots of bulldozers destroying abandoned houses and slow-motion footage of burning houses relish in the destruction.
Reportedly booed at Cannes, Lost River finds its way to theaters in a new cut that trims 10 minutes of running time. We're not certain what has been edited out, except for the infamous "look at my muscles" scene that served as the public's first look at the film. Although Gosling deserves credit for not going a safe route with his first film, Lost River is nothing short of a sincere yet disastrous, jumbled mess of images that never cohere into anything meaningful.
Lost River is now playing in Los Angeles, New York, and Austin and also available digitally.