The Nice Guys will prove once and for all that Ryan Gosling is more than just that cute guy from The Notebook. Frankly, he proved that to me a long time ago, with his appearance in Drive; that album of weird and spooky songs he did with a duo called Dead Man's Bones; that time he broke up a fight on the streets of New York and then called himself "the guy from The Notebook" in an interview about it a few weeks later; his appearance on Funny or Die's Drunk History Christmas; and that time he saved a puppy in Palm Springs.
But still, I feel like the some people will only ever think of him as that guy from The Notebook though maybe that's mainly guys who have girlfriends who have made them watch it one too many times. Relax, guys! Here's a Ryan Gosling movie for the both of you!
Set in grimy 1970's Los Angeles, a time when the Hollywood sign was a crumbling monument, and porn movies had billboards on Sunset Boulevard, The Nice Guys pairs Gosling with Russell Crowe, as two slightly shady investigators who find themselves working on the same case, but from different angles. Gosling is a licensed private detective named Holland March. He's a widower with a pre-teen daughter and bit of a drinking problem. Crowe is Jackson Healy, muscle-for-hire, who lives above a comedy club and has a preference for brass knuckles over guns. Both men find themselves searching for the same missing girl and decide to join up, even if they each think the other is an idiot. (Both are correct in that thinking, some of the time.)
The mystery they find themselves involved in, which I won't attempt to surmise in detail since to do so would make it sound a lot more complicated than it actually is, involves a dead porn actress, (or "porn young lady," as March prefers to refer to her), a missing teenager, a porn movie, the Detroit auto industry, and the department of justice.
Director and co-writer Shane Black got his break in Hollywood with the screenplay for Lethal Weapon, so it comes as no surprise that The Nice Guys is at its best when it sticks to the buddy comedy formula. Gosling does a lot of physical comedy throughout the film, and he's a genius at it. The simple act of busting a glass window with his fist results in a comedy of errors that had me laughing for a solid two minutes. Russell isn't required to do much heavy comedy lifting, but he makes a good straight man, and gets to do almost as much fighting as he did in Gladiator, (and in real life, come to think of it).
The central mystery owes a lot to the movie Chinatown, down to a fractured family relationship, and a huge Los Angeles conspiracy centered on money, the law, and something a city needs as much as water: Clean air.
But as a mystery, it's full of holes. The threat that everyone is trying to suppress is not something that could ever be considered a real threat, and at times the facts of the case, and numerous action sequences, weigh the movie down. It's much more fun just watching these clown detectives working a crowded room looking for clues. The ending sets up the possibility for a sequel, and if so, you can count me in. Just give them an easier case next time.
For those who prefer their movies with fewer explosions and swearing, you can't go wrong with Whit Stillman's latest, Love & Friendship, which is based on a relatively unknown, early novella by Jane Austen called Lady Susan.
Like all of Jane Austen's works, the story is set in 18th century England, among the rich and the slightly less rich. Kate Beckinsale is the widowed Lady Susan, a gleefully conniving and amoral anti-heroine who manages to get exactly what she wants, even when it's so very obvious to those around her that she's absolutely The Worst. Chole Sevigny plays her equally amoral confidant from America, and Morfydd Clark is Susan's teenage daughter Frederica, whom Susan hopes to marry off as soon as possible.
There are a lot of characters to keep straight, most related to each other either by blood or marriage, and the movie does try and help the audience out by presenting each with a humorous bio card as they're introduced. The dialogue and satire are worthy of Monty Python, especially the performance from Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin; he's a perfect forerunner to the Upper Class Twit of the Year. (Amazed by the "tiny green balls" on his dinner plate, he asks his hosts what they're called. "Peas," is the deadpan reply.)
I went into Love & Friendship as a skeptic who never really got the appeal of Jane Austen, but I came out of it wanting to see it again, and wishing Whit Stillman would take a stab at adapting everything she ever wrote.