Lost River (N/R)
Time Out rating:
Not yet rated
Time Out says
Tue May 20
Hey, girl—go with what you know. Actor turned auteur Ryan Gosling’s nutty (and not in a good way) adult fairy tale is like some unholy amalgam of Nicolas Winding Refn’s black-light fantasias and Terrence Malick’s soul-searching allegories. It goes off the rails early and often. You almost have to give it props for how resolutely batshit it is. Almost.
Amid the many crumbling houses of American everytown Lost River lives single mother Billy (Christina Hendricks) and her two sons, preadolescent Franky (Landyn Stewart) and teenage Bones (Iain De Caestecker). Their only neighbors are Rat (Saoirse Ronan)—so named because she has a pet rat (clever, Gos!)—and her mute, mentally unsound grandmother, played in a wasted cameo by exploitation-movie goddess Barbara Steele. Billy tries to make ends meet with a red-light-district night job. Bones, meanwhile, broods like the Gosling manqué he is, looking soulful and sensitive as he harvests scrap metal and constantly avoids Matt Smith’s Bully, a bestial psycho who’s like Escape from New York’s villainous Duke with a lip-severing fetish.
There’s also Ben Mendelsohn’s Dave, a hard-of-hearing banker who moonlights as the purveyor of a burlesque show. You also get an underwater town, a magical curse that must be broken, a speaker-shattering score and flaming houses shot in slo-mo. The film certainly announces itself in every scene, like a carnival barker projecting right beside your ear canal. By themselves, the sights are often gorgeous: Half-submerged streetlights illuminate a placid lake; a burning bike sidles, sans passenger, across the frame; the always-luminous Hendricks slices her face until she resembles one of Clive Barker’s grotesquely beautiful creations. Cinematographer Benoît Debie, late of Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void—with which Gosling’s film maudit also shares some affinities—has truly outdone himself.
Yet visual dexterity will get only get you so far. Gosling has clearly designed the movie as a parable of American economic exploitation. The sexually crude Dave and the animalistic Bully are two sides of the same oppressive coin, while the sweet-faced Bones is the ruminative innocent who must find the power to restore his broken family and unite the monetarily and spiritually destitute. Unfortunately, Gosling is more interested in the cool factor of watching Mendelsohn pimp-dance his way toward a cowering Hendricks than he is in the film’s grad-school-ready themes. Lost River is itself a peep show—a chimeric stroke job that leaves you utterly unfulfilled.
Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich
Author: Keith Uhlich
Cast and crew
Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Eva Mendes, Matt Smith, Iain de Caestecker, Ben Mendelsohn, Barbara Steele, Reda Kateb, Landyn Stewart