Occupying a singular role in someone else’s life is gratifying: knowing that you’re the only one who can cheer up that certain friend, knowing that you’re the only one your boss trusts to take charge when he’s out sick. This is what’s so great about sad-looking guys. It feels good when you’re the one who ekes that rare smile out of them. There’s almost nothing better than being the one to shut off a person’s default depressive settings.
This is my theory about Ryan Gosling. He’s not the most obvious leading man; actually, he always looks like he’s about to cry. But the ladies love him! He seems like he needs protecting, and also as though getting him to laugh might be a real challenge. But he has a deep voice. And bigger arms than you might think. And that combination of baritone and biceps steer him clear of that soft, puppy eyed, Elijah Wood territory he might otherwise be mired in forever. The collision of opposites – twee, but manly – make him a perfect, if not obvious, candidate for all those dark, stormy hero roles he seems to pick. That’s what really pitches his boyish pallor into such blinding relief; he’s been cast as a freebasing middle-school teacher, a trial-obsessed prosecutor, a socially inept lover of an anatomically correct doll.
All Good Things opened last Friday, and it’s Gosling’s first film since 2007’s Lars and the Real Girl. In it he plays an increasingly deranged and ultimately murderous real estate scion. He goes catatonic at times, releases blood curdling screams at others. His sweetness turns believably sinister. And if that isn’t enough, we even get him in some Tenant-esque, Polanksi-type drag. All Good Things really is a good thing. Despite the grim plot points (marriage disintegration, psychotic breakdown, homicides), Andrew Jarecki pumps a lot of wish fulfillment into 101 minutes. The early courtship is meltingly romantic, and the proposal scene actually made me gasp with delight. There’s a natural food store in Vermont, there’s tennis whites, there’s cocaine in the bathroom, there’s Studio 54. There’s everything you could ever want.
Gosling looks like a friend’s little brother all grown up. You can see younger versions of him in his own face, as you can with someone who you’ve known for a long time but never really bothered to examine closely. Like Andy Warhol, he’s monochromatic: hair, skin, perennial tighty-whiteys. That non-color is what happens when blond boys grow up. Gosling’s a bit lunar, as though he’s subsisted off a steady diet of bee pollen his whole life. His agent must have sat him down a few years ago and said, “Ryan, you’re only to appear in films with overexposed cinematography. Do you understand that? It’s crucial for your brand.”
In All Good Things, we see Gosling in his natural habitat: lens flare, dappled light, winter skies, deciduous trees. His co-star in the film is Kirsten Dunst, and watching the two together, you realize how similarly seductive they are. They’re creatures of the same environment. They have nostalgic, vintage-y faces — Polaroid faces. They both appeal to mainstream audiences (The Notebook, Bring It On) and indie audiences (Half Nelson, The Virgin Suicides) alike. It’s true too that they both resemble glow worms.
Blue Valentine, which opens on December 31st is also a portrait of a splintering marriage, but with Michelle Williams in the place of Kirsten Dunst as the betrothed blonde. Gosling has three more forthcoming films slated for 2011: The Ides of March, which is in pre-production; and then Crazy, Stupid, Love and Drive, which are both in post-production. He’s been at premiers and Q&As, in promotion of these new films. He’s on the cover of the December 13th issue of New York. He’s all over town! But where has he been? Maybe just “working on his music.” He’s in a band called Dead Man’s Bones, and they’re actually supposed to be good. It’s always satisfying to know that people – public figures, in particular – have a uniform aesthetic or at least a set of somewhat predicable tastes. Dead Man’s Bones. His band name says it all. What’s there not to love about a boy with a fondness for Danzig and a last name that means baby duck?