Johnny Jewel may just be the film’s MVP
While the way in which it’s used is often distractingly music-video-like (roaring loud crescendos over slo-mo shots of burning houses or people walking down neon-y corridors), Johnny Jewel’s soundtrack is probably the gem (yes, we went there) of “Lost River,” possibly because the film has little discernible narrative to force a particular shape onto the audio, so it can more or less do what it wants. Jewel, who runs his own label and is a multi-instrumentalist member of several bands including Glass Candy and Chromatics, and who also contributed music to Refn's "Bronson" and "Drive," cleverly selects the classic crackly 1940s/50s tracks, like "Deep Purple" (though again, it's even got a color in the chorus, "Blue Velvet"-style) that counterpoint and complement the overgrown decay of the setting. But the musical score is more unusual and original and may sound even better in isolation from pictures that just make everything seem too hysterically overcooked. Jewel’s own description tells you all you need to know really: “It’s more doo-wop, disintegrated rockabilly mixed in with industrial sounds. So we’ve been listening to a lot of Alan Vega and the Shangri-La’s.”
Yes, we’ve already shouted out Ben Mendelsohn’s performance as being one of the few highlights of this lurid, turgid mess, but while he steals every one of his dialog scenes effortlessly, it’s a physical moment that gives the film its main single pleasure. Down in The Shelf, a fluorescent-lit perverts’s dungeon containing a full-body contraption into which a woman, in this case Christina Hendricks, is locked so that men can indulge whatever extravagantly sordid fantasies they might have without her actually coming to any physical harm. Mendelsohn is her first client. With her locked into the device and unable to move he does the most utterly horrifying thing we’ll see in a film that also has a man cut someone’s lips off with a pair of scissors: he dances. It’s a grotesque Dad-dance, as he arrhythmically writhes around in his white shirt and slacks, that might be the number one unsexiest thing we’ve ever witnessed. But it’s also mordantly hilarious and less self-serious than the rest of the film as for once it seems someone is acknowledging just how off-the-charts daft all this is. Like poor Christina Hendricks (in fact it might take one of those contraptions to get us to sit through the film again), we couldn’t look away.
It’s not often we wake up feeling sorry for wealthy heartthrob Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling, but today dawned the first day in the new post-“Lost River” world and it’s hard not to imagine him feeling pretty shitty right now. The reviews, ranging from poor to savage might not have meant as much elsewhere but in Cannes that’s really all there is, so there were probably a lot of averted eyes and awkward silences at the breakfast buffet this morning. But if there’s one thing that “Lost River” proves, it’s that Gosling is humble enough to learn from experience (in the case of the film, specifically the experience of watching a bunch of David Lynch movies and being in a couple of Refns) and there are plenty of learnings here that could inform a much better sophomore feature, if and when the time comes. Like, did you really need to hire a dream analyst? But seriously, “Lost River” is really an example of trying to run before you can walk, or even stand, with lashings of audio visual style slathered onto some tragically poorly thought-through storytelling. Maybe next time he should think about not going full auteur and either collaborating with an established writer on the script, or taking one wholesale that has been written by someone else.
Any further questions about “Lost River”? What do you think of the kind of reaction it's received in Cannes? Tell us in the comments below.