There was such interest in the first screening for Ryan Gosling‘s directorial debut, Lost River, in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival that people began lining up Tuesday afternoon much earlier than usual and the Debussy theater was full 15 minutes before showtime for one of the most anticipated films — and directorial debuts — of this year’s lineup in any section. Running at top speed down the Croisette after a Foxcatcher lunch at the Carlton (see below), I raced over there but could only find a fold-out seat in the front row. Worse than that, an equally tardy — and loudly complaining — Un Certain Regard juror almost got tossed out by an overzealous usher until she was saved by two more savvy ushers as the lights were going down and given a seat on the other side of the theater where someone (another juror?) was saving a single spot for her.
But after seeing the film, I don’t think this juror would have had much to worry about in missing this thing even if she were thrown out. I have more than a Certain Regard for Gosling’s talent and smart sensibilities as an actor. He’s easily one of the best and biggest risk takers of his generation. The filmography speaks for itself, including his Oscar-nominated turn in Half-Nelson, the inventive Lars And The Real Girl, Blue Valentine, (the wildly underrated) The Place Beyond The Pines and on and on. As a director, however — well, I guess I still admire him as an actor. Here he seems to be just imitating stuff he’s seen on the screen, not in life.
Lost River is an odd hybrid of Beasts Of The Southern Wild and the Gosling-starring dud Only God Forgives that was in the main competition last year from director Nicolas Winding Refn (now a juror this year but not in Un Certain Regard), along with about 30 other movies you’ve seen and discarded. Refn, by the way, told press he planned to go to Tuesday night’s premiere of his friend and star’s movie and was “sure he would like it”. Many major critics had another thought and were harsh on the film, which seems to ape styles from Tarantino to, yes, Refn (who also directed Gosling in the superior Drive) to Eli Roth. But in reality, the whole film, while impressively full of cinematic language, just doesn’t seem to know what to do with all its moving parts. And it is lit so darkly for 90% of the time that it’s hard to tell what’s happening. Benoit Debie, who is French cinema’s enfant terrible Gaspar Noe’s cinematographer, carries over the worst habits of that miserable auteur (sorry, Noe fans). An overly stylized sound design doesn’t help matters. On the plus side are great atmospheric settings and a terrific choice of music throughout, which really tries to bring the film up. Original title was the much better How To Catch A Monster since Lost River is just too generic and is reminiscent of such film titles as Mystic River, Wild River, The River, River Wild, The River’s Edge, Frozen River, River Of No Return and several other River movies, all better movies than this one.
This is the first film this year where I heard boos, but to be fair there were some cheers mixed in. One wag called it “choos”. Another journalist kindly said of Gosling’s debut, “sometimes it’s good to get things out of your system”. But Lost River also had its fans among the critic set, so not all is lost. But Gosling, if he reads this stuff on Twitter and various websites, just might be wondering How To Catch A Break right about now. With Gosling only behind the camera and no name box office draws, you have to wonder what Warner Bros (which is releasing stateside) will do with this (though there’s a Godzilla-like head seen in the movie, for nice corporate synergy). It is times like these the studio has to wish it had kept Warner Independent. Any attempt to do an Oscar campaign would be fruitless, and it doesn’t appear the studio will have the critics on their side. Nevertheless I am betting that Gosling, with a better script, might have real potential as a director, so on to the next one for this talented artist.
Before the Lost River debut, I made it to the Foxcatcher lunch and got to talk it up with director Bennett Miller, star Steve Carell, and producer Jon Kilik, who is having a hell of a Cannes between the ecstatic reception for this film and the big splash for the next Hunger Games sequel Mockingjay Part 1, which had a huge party at a Russian mansion in Cap d’Antibes on Saturday. Miller told me what a “mind blowing” experience coming to Cannes for the first time has been. He’s clearly on a high due to reaction to the November 14 Sony Pictures Classics release. It’s almost a year to the day from their original announced premiere at the 2013 AFI Fest, before Miller asked to have more time to shape the film. He told me it has worked out for the best. This film will be on the circuit all season long. And then there is the terrific Carell, who could empty forests with all the reams of Oscar buzz his performance has generated among writers at the fest — and that includes me.
SPC still is determining which category, but I think it should be Best Actor. He seems to be the center of the film. I asked Carell about all things Oscar, and he cringed. “I guess I am going to have to come up with some sort of standard statement,” he said. “But I think it’s just premature to talk about it, and the Oscars are a slippery slope.” Of course it is understandable Carell would be cautious: He sat at the Emmys and managed to lose six times for his brilliant lead performance in The Office. He also had high praise for Vanessa Redgrave, who has the briefest of screen time as his mother but is so powerful she could pull a supporting nomination herself — and maybe break the record for the shortest screen time in the category. Nevertheless, their (somewhat improvised) scene together is what screen acting is all about.