Daily | Cannes 2014 | Ryan Gosling’s LOST RIVER

Lost River

‘Lost River’

“Had Terrence Malick and David Lynch somehow conceived an artistic love-child together, only to see it get kidnapped, strangled and repeatedly kicked in the face by Nicolas Winding Refn, the results might look and sound something like Lost River, a risible slab of Detroit gothic that marks an altogether inauspicious writing-directing debut for Ryan Gosling.” And Variety‘s Justin Chang is off and running: “‘Lost’ is indeed the operative word for this violent fairy tale about a fractured family trying to survive among the ruins of a city overrun by thugs, sexual predators and other demons, nearly all of them cribbed from the surreal cinematic imaginations of other, vastly more intuitive filmmakers.”

Yes, the critics are flashing their blades, and the slicing and dicing must have begun even as the credits were still rolling. Criticwire‘s Sam Adams immediately gathered a first round of tweets, and a few of them are pretty good. I’ll limit myself here to just one, though. From Jonathan Romney: “Let’s see God forgive this.”

Before we move on and then move on out (and we’ll be quick about it), Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan has written up a helpful FAQ. First question: “What’s it about? Lost River is a mother-and-son story, though Billy (Christina Hendricks) and her teenage son Bones (Ian de Caestecker) don’t spend a lot of time together. She’s working at a very weird fetish club in order to make the rent, while he’s busy stripping houses in their almost-abandoned neighborhood…. Things look grim for their family’s future, but when next-door neighbor Rat (Saoirse Ronan) tells Bones that an entire amusement park lies hidden at the bottom of a nearby body of water, the boy becomes convinced that this flooded, forgotten dream world holds the key to turning their bad luck around.”

“First came the boos, like an owl symphony, or a cattle crescendo,” reports Time‘s Richard Corliss. “Then, a smattering of defiant applause. Then, the boos again. The antiphonal response could have gone on all afternoon, with catcalls winning in a landslide, but the critics had other movies to see.” He notes that his “better half Mary Corliss, usually a temperate soul,” jotted down in her notes: “‘pretentious horseshit.’ Well, yes, but. Give some credit to Gosling, the Method-hunk star of such indie faves as Half Nelson, Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines, plus Hollywoodier fare like The Notebook, The Ides of March and Crazy, Stupid, Love, for his mad mashup of horror and social statement, crackpot fantasy and Sundance-style meandering. That means it wavers between the stupefying and the obscure, between LOL and WTF.”

Lost River is little more than ‘cool shots, bro,'” writes Peter Labuza at the Film Stage. The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw: “For ‘River’ read ‘Opportunity’ or ‘Any Sense Of Proportion Or Humility’ or maybe just ‘Mind.'” It’s “a visual and aural sensory bath that shows some real flair but feels madly derivative at every moment,” writes the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy. The Playlist‘s Oliver Lyttelton name-checks Dario Argento and gives Lost River a C- (not all that bad, actually). Same grade from Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. The Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin calls it “mouth-dryingly lousy” and throws in a few more names: Mario Bava, Gaspar Noé “and a splash of David Cronenberg for good measure.” And Screen‘s Mark Adams calls Lost River “an over-cooked affair that lacks much needed wit and humor to go alongside its self-aware art intentions.”

Updates, 5/21: At Buzzfeed, Alison Willmore grants that “it’s inchoate, it’s a little indulgent, and it’s crammed with ideas, only some of which are fully realized. But Gosling definitely deserves credit for ambition. This isn’t a talky, actorly drama or a vehicle for Gosling to play a role he’s yet to be cast in—it’s very focused on visuals, and manages some very memorable ones, alongside others that are just strange. As first features go, it’s proof that Gosling’s not interested in making easy choices as a filmmaker, and that deserves both a salute and an eye on what he does next.”

And writing at, Ben Kenigsberg notes that “as the movie played, I found myself wondering, ‘When does this get bad?’ The least one can say for Lost River is that there’s not a dull shot in it. Courtesy of cinematographer Benoit Debie, it’s a vision of decay, neon, and hellfire that’s like no other (well, except maybe Lynch’s and Refn’s). It’s probably the most purely beautiful film I’ve seen at Cannes since Drive in 2011…. Debie makes astonishing use of counter-intuitive light sources, rain on glass, pure red, and shocks of candlelight.”

The AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd: “Imitation is a healthy, productive stage of creative growth; many young artists spend their early years fusing components of the work they love, tinkering with the equation until the results resemble something new. But Lost River displays almost no distinctive personality of its own, beyond the hero worship that clearly fueled its construction.”

Updates, 5/24: At Grantland, Wesley Morris notes that Lost River opens with “an unwashed, tank-topped toddler wobbling from one debris-strewn site to the next… There are people who don’t want to meet their favorite stars for fear that who they really are will disappoint. That’s how I feel when some actors direct. I’m scared to know what they’re really into or that there’s nothing there but, say, a spoiled teenager with designer taste in condescension. That dirty, lost little boy traipsing through the debris? I’m sad to report it’s Gosling.”

“This is the stuff that memes are made off,” writes Adam Woodward at Little White Lies. “Composed as a series of increasingly abstract non sequiturs, Gosling’s first film behind the lens borrows various themes and motifs from its myriad influences and reverse-engineers them into an astonishingly flatulent acid-trip cinema showpiece.”

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