Recently I was selected to be one of ten intrepid amateur theatre reviewers for the North East Artist Development Network. My first review is now online here; I decided to start with kindness. It would have been possible to be much more scathing, as the show I saw was billed as drama but really was a whole heap less sophisticated than that. However, I’m just finding my feet, see what you think.
Perhaps one day I’ll manage to feel secure enough in my theatre reviewing to do it in the same style as my now surprisingly popular ‘Gosling Watch’ on Facebook. For those of you who are not FB friends, here’s a round-up of my pearls of wisdom to date…
September 13 2014, Only God Forgives
So I watched Only God Forgives, hoping for some close-ups of Ryan Gosling’s beautiful face moving almost imperceptibly from one state of beautiful blankness to another, subtly different state of beautiful blankness. I was rewarded with many such moments, and also – a prescient, machete-wielding cop-nemesis, several sub-Lynchian scarlet-drenched dream sequences, an unrecognisably brassy Kristen Scott Thomas playing a castrating-mother-cougar-gangster-matriarch, and Thai karaoke. This film teeters on the brink of cult genius, before plunging slow-motion into the abyss of the truly fucking awful.
September 14 2014, Ides Of March
Still on the eternal quest for Gosling-satiety, I watched The Ides Of March, which is a typical late-period Clooney political noir featuring the Cloonster himself as a charming senator racing for the Democratic presidential candidacy, with Gosling our hero as the rising star in the campaign office. Fans of the Gosling School Of Facial Acting will be delighted to know that there is a decent quota of wordless, faintly enigmatic blank-face moments. Excitingly, there are also several moments in which his face does much more complex emotional stuff that I am forced to call acting. It’s a story of lost innocence, and yes I know there may not seem to be much innocence left to be lost for a spin-doctor with all the hallmarks of a political and emotional player, but lo! the labrador tail of idealism still wags in the soul of our hero, until actions and their consequences dock it for good. Most satisfactory as a film all-round, just what I’ve come to expect from Clooney as a director, although it scores quite low on the Gosling-Kit-Off scale. Which of course doesn’t exist, that would be puerile of me.
September 16 2014, Drive
Many of you will be asking ‘why the Gosling fetish, Kirsten? when did this all start? did you accidentally watch The Notebook or something?’ The truth is, I did wade through that particular tide of treacle some years back, and had managed to expunge the experience from my conscious memory. At the time, the divine Ryan moved me not one jot, the Face being at that time far too fresh, plus there was all that lying in the road whiffling at traffic lights bullshit to contend with.
No, good friends, it was Drive, Drive the magnificent, the moody, the mesmeric, a film with the racing lines of an urban heist movie but powered by pure Western. Gosling is literally the man with no name, drifted in from some modern high plains wearing not a poncho but a scorpion bomber jacket, laconic (naturally), and operating sometimes outside the law but always within his own code, driven to extreme violence only to protect the innocent. The whole film is fucking gorgeous, but it’s the interaction between him and Carey Mulligan that did it for me. She’s a pretty deft exponent of Facial Acting herself, and I was hypnotised by watching them watching each other, speechlessly allowing their faces to suffuse with – love? Attraction? Soul-recognition? Ah! The yearning….
September 23 2014, Crazy. Stupid. Love.
Crazy, Stupid, Love. Mid-life loser (Steve Carrell) gets booted out by his wife (Julianne Moore) and winds up sitting like a saddo in a pick-up joint, where he is taken under the wing of spectacularly successful Game-playing womaniser (Ryan Gosling). The inevitable happens – loser rediscovers his mojo through taking up anonymous sex, man-whore rediscovers his heart through giving up anonymous sex, but both end up re-affirming that All You Need Is Love. This is a modern rom-com of the knowing variety, one which makes slyly subversive digs at the very tropes it inhabits. Gosling is the focus of a few clever little camera-shot turnarounds where this objectifier of women becomes the object of the lens-eye. We meet him from the feet up, like Cameron Diaz in The Mask; we even get a full-length shot of him posing in slow-mo with orgasmic backing music. He falls in love with a girl who is incapable of playing The Game by the standard one-night rules. Gosling playing a man in love reads a lot like his ‘real self’, by which I mean the small-screen persona he projects in TV interviews. It’s a good look on him, and he seems to have some shit-hot deadpan comic timings in both arenas. There is really no Enigmatic Blank Face time in this film at all, but this is balanced by a solid six on the (non-existent) Gosling Kit-Off Scale. Yeah, you heard me, a six. I can take more. On a more worrying note, I seem to have refined my adoration of the Face into a specific obsession with his nose. Dammit, that’s a fine nose.
September 26 2014, more about Crazy. Stupid. Love.
Still slightly obsessing over Crazy, Stupid, Love and the rom-com genre in general. I believe rom-coms are equivalent to glossy magazines – they promise us (women) some light if slightly guilty pleasure, some ‘me-time’, a little harmless escapism. But they always seem to leave an aftertaste of depression. So much shiny fantasy undermines dull reality, throws our cellulite into sharp relief, and in the case of rom-coms propagates an impossible notion of love. Who was I meant to identify with when watching that film? My love was not the lightning strike of seeing my soulmate in the school corridor. My love was not a Photoshopped asshole transformed instantly into ideal family man by my unique personality. My love was a friend who forgave my faults, because if I was in that film I would have been the crazy-eyed, self-destructive teacher whose heart and genitals provided the arena for Loser-Hero Steve Carrell to grab back his confidence. And of all the characters, she was the one left still loveless at the credits, because she’s broken, right? And the mad ones don’t get the rom-com redemption. Directors, throw some crumbs to the broken bitches, there are more of us than you acknowledge, and these films are to love as cupcakes are to food.
September 28 2014, The Place Beyond The Pines
There are films which are novelistic in scope, introducing us to a protagonist and then following them through unfolding circumstances and personal developments to some kind of conclusion, resolution, redemption even. We stay with them, and are invited to care, even for the anti-hero. (There Will Be Blood, for example). Then there are films which play more like a collection of short stories, linked by theme or frequently by the daisy-chain of chance interactions between characters. There is no one protagonist, the focus of our sympathy shifts, the cast is vast and the effect is looser on the emotions, meditative even. (Short Cuts, for example). The Place Beyond The Pines sits somewhere between the two. A more conventionally structured version of this film would feature Bradley Cooper’s character, the cop Avery Cross, as the lead. Instead we are tricked into thinking Gosling’s mysterious and misguided motorcyclist is going to be the hero, and given almost an hour to give a shit before he gets a cap popped in him. As a Gosling-junkie, I feel cheated and used. Sure, lure me in with an opening shot of his immaculately chiselled torso, but then to abandon me with and hour and twenty minutes of your ‘meditation on fathers and sons’? You mean I have to read this film as art, not entertainment? I have to seriously ask myself what is this place beyond the pines, metaphorically speaking? Oh ffs.
October 11 2014, Lars And the Real Girl
“Quirky, heart-warming comedy” is such a devalued phrase, isn’t it? Like “luxury flat”. It could easily be applied to Lars And The Real Girl, the latest outing for Gosling Watch. Lars is socially crippled by shyness – hahaha! He orders a life-sized, anatomically-correct doll from the Internet – hahaha! He truly believes that she is real, and the whole town joins in with his delusion – oh, hahahahahahahahahaHAHA! Played differently, hilarity could indeed ensue. But it doesn’t, because even though there are funny moments, the point is definitely not ‘let’s laugh at Lars’. This film has way too much heart for that, and in fact it is about love in the widest and realest sense – intimate love, familial love, community love and I would say also Christian love. “Love is God in action” says the local priest, and we see the ripple of it extending out through the town in a most beautiful way. The town itself is a bastion of simple decency in the far north, probably where the cop from Fargo grew up. Of course. The northern small-town is the new shorthand for old-fashioned values, now that the mid-west picket-fenced hamlet has become so subverted (Lynch, I’m looking at you).
Loved this film. Loved Gosling in it, he’s superb, especially the panic attack scene. But when searching for it, Netflix suggested Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, and I advise you not to mix up the two when choosing your Sunday morning viewing, photomontages of flaccid penises can really put you off your cornflakes.
November 2 2014, Drive (again)
BBC Radio 1 have re-scored Drive. I haven’t watched it all yet, so I can’t comment on the whether or not I can tell the difference – I suspect the main change for me will be noticing the music at all, as the original score is minimal and seamless. But I did check out the scene by the river when Gosling takes Mulligan and her son for an idyllic outing. This montage is cinematic shorthand for ‘and over time the two fell deeply in love’. In the original soundtrack, it is the first incidence of ‘the theme from Drive’ (A Real Hero by College & Electric Youth), which has the hook ‘what does it mean to be a real human being and a real hero?’.
Now I was recently arguing with a good friend of mine about Drive. His assertion was that the entire film is a piece of cheesy nonsense, exemplified by this section and this song. After vigorously reminding him that Gosling is playing not a character but a FREAKIN’ ARCHETYPE, DUDE, I got to thinking about what I actually meant by that.
So I think the archetype is The Hero, and I think it’s as impossible an ideal of masculinity as any film portrayal of femininity. That whole strong and silent – yet feels deeply – yet is a loner – yet is a family man – yet is brutally violent – yet is tender….even his faults presented as virtuous. How is anyone meant to combine all of that and still be plausible? You can’t do it, men – you can’t be a real hero AND a real human being.
Which is why I prefer the original soundtrack, cheesy as it is, over the new (and equally cheesy) ‘aaaaaahhh, you’re amazing’. Pur-lease. Give me an existential question over a breathless assertion any day.