Everyone was curious and excited when Ryan Gosling announced he was going to make a film. I was even more curious when I heard about its appalling reception at Cannes, since the last film I heard such a kerfuffle about at Cannes was The Tree of Life, which, while I am to this day in two minds over, was at least worth the watch.
Lost River is set in a dilapidated American small town created in the aftermath of a reservoir that flooded the old town. Where? Doesn’t matter, but it’s really dilapidated. This town, from which the film takes its name, is home to Billy (Christina Hendricks), a single mother who finds herself in debt and out of luck while her son Bones (Iain De Caestecker) gets himself into altercations with Bully (Matt Smith), the town bully. Lost River is not high on subtlety, despite taking its aesthetic cues from the vastly more subtle Nicolas Winding Refn.
The story of these people is somewhat scattered. It seems as if Gosling was aiming for a grungy urban-fairytale vibe but didn’t know exactly where to take it. The film is a more a collection of tropes than a story, the mute grandmother watching a wedding video, the superstitious girl-next-door and the sleazy macabre nightclub. These are all great ideas, and they’re paired with striking imagery and some good performances, so it’s a shame that none of them really go anywhere. These odd events and people just coexist intercut next to each other looking really really stylish in shades of purple and orange. Just as you think you’ve had your fill of mildly surrealistic picture perfect poverty, Rat (Saoirse Ronan) reveals the “curse” that lies over Lost River, that can only be broken by bringing a piece of the drowned town to the surface. Later in the film the piece brought to the surface will turn out to be a dinosaur head, from the prehistoric theme park in the drowned town. There is no reason for this park to have been created, in fact it has to be clumsily added into an educational video about the reservoir for it to make any sense at all. The layers of artifice just build and build.
All in all the film is just thin. The plot doesn’t really hold together, none of the characters are developed beyond small quirks and idiosyncrasies. Like the forlorn teenagers putting on something fancy to go hang around abandoned factories the film is dressed up with nowhere to go. Slow motion burning houses, yes, are cool. So are soundtracks made exclusively of pulsing electro beats and so are gold sequined jackets. In fact the film is so painfully cool that you can almost forgive it being nothing else, almost. I’m sure some people will love it for its compelling visual style and the heightened fetished weirdness, but it feels very much like an exercise in aesthetic emptiness.
- Entertainment: 2/5
- Artistic: 2/5
- Intellectual: 0/5