“What the fuck is ‘Lost River'” is a question you may be asking yourself well into the credits of this macabre modern fairy tale.
Professional dream date and “Hey, Girl” inspiration Ryan Gosling has transitioned from A-lister to writer/director. It was inevitable this film would tie into the blue-collar emotional mystique Gosling has spent so long cultivating. His roles in “Drive,” “A Place Beyond the Pines” and even “The Notebook” have explored the deeper side of gritty characters. But with this film, Gosling’s directorial debut, it seems he needed to focus more on substance than style. It’s hard enough to be a new director with major name recognition, but Gosling took a very ambitious approach that both succeeded and failed.
Billy (Christina Hendricks of “Mad Men”) is a single mom with a problem. Her town is quickly dilapidating around her, and she’s three house payments away from losing her home. When she goes to the bank, the inevitable rape-y bank teller Dave (Ben Mendelsohn, “Bloodline”) knows how she can make some money. What’s interesting is it isn’t what you think. Dave enlists Billy to join a strange theater of terror where beautiful women act out elaborate gory murder scenarios. Cat (Eva Mendes, Gosling’s baby mama) runs this bizarre murder cabaret. Meanwhile, Billy’s older son Bones (Iain De Caestecker) is trying to help raise money by stealing copper wire from demolished houses. He gets on the radar of both Bully (Matt Smith of “Doctor Who”), the oddly-post-apocalyptic town bully and Rat (Saoirse Ronan, “The Lovely Bones”) his lonely shut-in neighbor. What follows is an adult fairy tale out of a third-tier graphic novel series.
The film isn’t unwatchable, and it’s debatable if it’s bad. It’s honestly just a bit challenging. Gosling spends a rather long time creating beautiful scenes or grotesque images that don’t pay off plot-wise. It feels like sloppy music video interludes or cuts from different projects that distract from an already ambitious script. Also, his story requires a bit of a leap that he doesn’t provide a net for. Considering it’s his unique vision, it’s his onus as the director to make it relatable in some way.
It’s pretty clear Hendricks made an impression on Gosling, so he created this role for her or thought she was a great fit. She is in a precarious place in Hollywood. She’s like an actress out of time. Her buxom body and saccharine voice are perfect for 1950s-era Hollywood, but she’s still able to convey intelligence and competency and not just portray a hapless victim of life. But all the same, it’s hard to find her niche in the current Hollywood machine. Struggling MILF did seem to suit her, even if this film wasn’t the ideal vehicle. Additionally, Mendes holds her own and does not feel like she is there because her partner was the director. Gosling also makes good use of freaky-eyed former “The Host” star Ronan as his haunted ingénue.
Sure, the movie was booed at the Cannes Film Festival, but so wereMartin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” Ultimately, the film is a victim of ambition. It’s clear that Gosling has the raw materials of a great director or innovative screenwriter. However, attempting to do them both was a bit of a struggle. You can chalk some of his overblown sequences to youthful exuberance, but “Lost River” does fall into the somewhat esoteric artistic perspective that Gosling has spent years cultivating with his acting choices. It’s best to watch this film without associating it with Gosling’s and then you may be able to give it credit for being grotesquely beautiful and way more entertaining than the inevitable movie versions of Monopoly, “Family Ties” or Starbucks.
“Lost River,” R, 95 mins. Available on Google Play, VUDU and iTunes.
Christian Cintron is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.