This isn't merely style over substance; this is style raping substance.
Lost River (Cannes Review)
Ryan Gosling knew this was going to happen. His directorial debut screened in the Un Certain Regarde category of Cannes and, naturally, packed the house as if it was the most highly buzzed Palme D’Or contender of the year. Two hours later the film ended, and people took to Twitter in disbelief, shock, and sarcasm engaged to the max. Yet, the film already began building a loyal fan base who defend its great aesthetics, originality, and the fact that it’s never boring. But getting your teeth pulled out by rusty pliers is probably never boring either. After making whatever Lost River is, there’s no way Gosling didn’t expect exactly that kind of reaction. Is there a point in even laying out the plot here? A mother (Christina Hendricks) works in a seedy bar and has to take care of two boys, one of whom is nicknamed Bones (Iain De Caestecker) and is sort of our protagonist. After getting news that they’re about to get displaced, she takes another job in an ever seedier bar, operated by her banker Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) so that she can pay three months in advance. Meanwhile, Bones attempts to outwit a local gang leader called Bully (Matt Smith) to help with the rent, and gets moral support from a friend called Rat (Saorise Ronan). Yes. Bones, Bully, and Rat.
The actors do a decent enough job and go beyond the call of duty that their names suggest, but it’s Mendelsohn who outshines everyone and truly looks like he belongs in the fucked up world Gosling juke-boxed together. The film spins out of control quite quickly and goes into experimental mode; becoming a lab for Gosling to play around with a Greatest Hits collection of influences (David Lynch, Nicolas Winding Refn, and Gaspar Noe most notably, though the re-occurring image of burning buildings recalls one of my favorite cinematic shots, possibly ever, from Akira Kurosawa’s Ran) without needing to make much sense. The idea is to evoke a nightmarish atmosphere and make the whole thing into some form of parable for the housing crisis in middle America, or you know, he’s just fucking around. Whatever it is, he’s got me cursing for the first time in a Cannes review and that’s because most of the scenes, as great as they look (an image of a burning bicycle, the macabre bar where Hendricks begins to work, and the images of her in the plastic suit are undeniably striking and get etched into your mind, for better or for worse) don’t amount to anything substantial. This isn’t just style over substance, this is style raping substance.
The music deserves a mention, however, because (and this is a direct Refn influence) the electronic notes work in sinister fashion to help the overall grotesqueness occurring on-screen. If there was a Cannes award for Best Soundtrack, Lost River would be a shoe-in. As it stands, it’s nothing more than a first-time director’s messy homage to some of his favorites. The reason it’s getting so much attention, and will most likely go down as a cult favorite in certain circles, is because the director happens to be Ryan Gosling. Thanks to his name, though, he manages to assemble artists like Mendelsohn, Ronan, cinematographer Benoit Debie, and composer Johnny Jewel who elevate this psychedelic bad trip from complete disaster into a twisted kind of entertainment.