When Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut Lost River premiered at Cannes, it was less than well received. According to reviews, it seems like superstar Gosling was unable to “strut his stuff” behind the camera as well as he can in front of it. The story is a violent yet dreamy tale portraying a broken family that struggles to make ends meet in the ruins of a lawless city overcrowded by villains.
Filming took place in Detroit, but the movie is set in the fictional stand-in of (as the title says) Lost River during an economic collapse. The movie stars Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) as Billy, a single mother of Bones (Ian De Caustrecker), an occasional thief, and Franky (Landyn Stewart). Dave, played by Ben Mendelsohn (Killing Them Softly), is a banker without scruples who informs Billy that she’ll lose her family house unless she takes a job at a sketchy night club. Eva Mendes (The Place Beyond the Pines) makes an appearance as another one of the club’s performers and Saoirse Ronan shows up as a girl Bones befriends. The narrative seems to focus very much on the moral degradation reflective of the crumbling cityscape.
Compelling ideas, perhaps, but by all accounts not well prosecuted in a film bearing the stylistic ambition of filmmakers like Terrance Malick, David Lynch, Nicholas Winding Refn, and Gaspar Noe without (apparently) the same depth of meaning. As Todd McCarthy of Hollywood Reporter noted, “The visuals are undeniably dreamy, but they mostly seem borrowed from other filmmaker’s dreams.” The enchanted visuals may have succeeded because Gosling chose Refn’s cinematographer, Benoit Debie, to shoot Lost River. But pretty pictures do not a narrative make – the combination of Debie and Gosling at last years Cannes festival seemed to similarly underwhelm critics with Refn’s Only God Forgives (2013).
Warner Brothers has U.S. distribution rights for Lost River, but a release date is undetermined as of now. Only time will tell if Gosling commands enough mass appeal to outweigh the decidedly arthouse pitch of his movie and the festival’s negative reviews.