By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist May 21, 2014 at 12:18PM
By now in the Five Stages of Cannes Reaction — 1. Reaction 2. Backlash 3. Backlash to the backlash 4. Consensus 5. Moving On To Next Shiny Thing — we’re approaching the end of phase 4 with Ryan Gosling’s Un Certain Regard entry “Lost River.” It is a divisive film, though not as polarizing in the spectrum of opinions it has raised as last year’s Ryan Gosling-starrer “Only God Forgives” which was either the greatest masterpiece known to man or the worst pile of trash ever projected on a screen, depending on who you spoke to. No, there are precious few viewers so far who’re going out on a limb to declare this film any actual good, but there are several shades of vehemence on the more negative end of the spectrum. This writer’s is probably a little sourer on it than Oli, who reviewed it, but that said, we’re in broad agreement on the fundamentals: it’s visually rich but thematically impoverished, and so derivative that it sometimes feels more like a supercut than a movie.
But Warner Bros. have the film in the U.S. and the cast and director’s names alone are enough to bring in the curious (as well as the more disastrous reviews which generate their own kind of prurient fascination sometimes), so chances are some sort of release will happen relatively soon, and you all will be able to judge the hoohah for yourselves. But while we couldn’t let you go in to this film unprepared, whether they’re famous lusted-after screen stars or total random nobodies, none of us round here particularly enjoys treating a first-time director with unnecessary cruelty. And so with just the requisite amount of cruelty, here are 5 things you can expect from “Lost River.”
The performances are decent despite the film.
Reminiscent of the Refn school of thought on performance which involves having his actors remain dreamily or stoically impassive when all about them is going to hell in a lurid handbasket, Gosling’s laudable instinct is mostly to get his talented cast to underplay. Christina Hendricks, Iain de Caestecker and the never-knowingly-large Saoirse Ronan all do their best amid burning bicycles and plastic Iron Maiden-type devices, to remain people when all around them is turning to meaningless motif, Barbara Steele literally just sits in a veil unresponsively watching TV the whole time, and Ben Mendelsohn plays a creepy but contained perv like he’s trademarked that performance. The only exception may be Matt Smith’s Bully, but to be fair it’s hard to see how one could go small and interior with the role of “bellowing psycho with an armchair strapped to his car.” Elsewhere, proving the WC Fields adage about being upstaged by children and animals, the rodent actor playing Rat’s pet rat turns in a nuanced and ultimately tragic performance as the doomed symbol of innocent friendship (and also, ickily, metaphor for "vagina"). Ok fine, we’re kidding about the rat, but actually the young Landyn Stewart who plays the baby of the family is very good, with the simple unselfconscious sweetness of his child performance cutting through the clutter each time he’s on screen to create the rarest bird in "Lost River": a moment of genuine human connection.
It’s different from the script but not necessarily in a good way.
It turns out Ryan Gosling has quite the fanbase — who knew? Many of them, it seems, have already gotten their hands on a version of the script, but opinions vary as to the fidelity of the finished film to that script. Certainly, the version we ourselves were acquainted with, while not terribly good either, had more explanatory stuff in it, and more material that acted as backstory for the characters and their relationships. So Bones’ crush on Rat is given more than a single line to set up, and Bully has more than an armchair and a pair of scissors to define him. Taking a leaf from Refn’s book here, we think Gosling, if he shot it at all, removed a great deal of that in the edit in the name of being enigmatic, but there’s a fine line between enigmatic and merely confused and disjointed. Some other things are just as bad if not worse than in the script: the one-time titular monster (from the “How to Catch A Monster” days, such innocent times!) seems even less developed as a theme than it was on the page and we can remember being baffled by how little of it there was there.