2015, R, 95 min. Directed by Ryan Gosling. Starring Christina Hendricks, Iain De Caestecker, Saoirse Ronan, Eva Mendes, Matt Smith, Ben Mendelsohn, Barbara Steele, Reda Kateb, Landyn Stewart.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 10, 2015
In this moody film by debuting writer/director Ryan Gosling, Lost River is the name of a place, as well as a metaphor for the town’s forgotten people and unfulfilled dreams. Declining incomes and potential have driven most residents from its borders. The landscape is dotted with abandoned homes and businesses; but for the characters we encounter in the film, Lost River is a veritable ghost town in which there are only predators and prey. No wonder the little ones worry about the monsters outside their doors.
The film is richer in atmosphere than story, and Gosling’s directorial influences are easy to detect. Borrow a little weirdness and sexual kink from David Lynch, some ethereal narrative aura from Terrence Malick, grim human interactions from Gaspar Noé (while also employing Noé’s frequent cinematographer Benoît Debie), and garish, oversaturated lighting designs from Nicolas Winding Refn. These influences contribute a visual signature for Lost River, but narratively, the film is a roiling cauldron of leftovers.
Billy (Hendricks) lives in her run-down home with her family of two boys, toddler Franky (Stewart) and teen Bones (De Caestecker). Bones steals copper from abandoned buildings to earn money to fund his escape from Lost River. In this activity, he is thwarted by aptly named Bully (Smith), who wears a gold jacket and rides around town in a lounge chair mounted on the back of a Cadillac convertible, yelling to the skies that all the town’s copper belongs to him. When Billy asks for mercy on her adjustable mortgage from the sleazy banker Dave (Mendelsohn), he sets her up with work at his sex and horror club overseen by Cat (Mendes). Bones also has feelings for the girl next door, Rat (Ronan) – Billy, Bully, Rat, Cat; what’s up with these names? – who lives with her mute grandmother (former scream queen Steele). Additionally, some buildings burn, and a submerged, underwater city plays into the film’s ominous lore.
Lost River is a film whose reputation precedes it. Viewers have decried it as a mess or lauded it as an artistic achievement ever since it premiered at Cannes 11 months ago. Ultimately, the film is really neither. Yes, Gosling’s ambition exceeds his accomplishment, but what he’s delivered is hardly a disaster. Like Dave the banker says: Everybody has to do the “shimmy shimmy ya” and Gosling’s film is no exception. Expect no further clarity.
See “Grimm Guignol,” April 10, for an interview with Gosling and cast members.