Ryan Gosling’s wildly inauspicious debut as a writer/director finds us fixated on Bones (Iain De Caestecker) – a teenager tasked with stripping abandoned houses for copper to help support his destitute family. Further strapped for cash on account of a recent financial blow, Bones’ mother Billie (Christina Hendricks) takes a job at a macabre underground nightclub for folks looking to get their sadist jollies off. Enter sequin coat-clad Bully (Matt Smith) to make matters worse for Bones as he idly searches for a flooded underwater city of questionable importance.
Lost River‘s self-absorption is the type of thing that procures the name “Bully” for the villain. A dimwit stricken with social ineptitude and a cartoonish convertible, but a villain nonetheless. In fact, everything Gosling tries to construe or present in his simultaneously derivative and oppressive way rings just as dimwitted, the film’s initially straightforward exposition segueing into a hodgepodge of meandering cryptic bullshit. Mood is mistaken for atmospheric bombast as abstraction trumps coherence and literally nothing remains salvageable amid very muddled intentions.
Highly emulative of Gosling’s own collaborators – Malick and Refn specifically – Lost River is far-and-away devoid of any meaningful lyricism. He’s made “art” for art’s sake, employing various recognizable techniques simply because they’ve worked for others in the past. It becomes so far removed from convention that you almost wish it’d give up on itself, if only in favor of an attempt at redemption with a grounded, less ludicrous endgame. Things remain steadfastly the opposite as Lost River‘s hopelessly unremarkable characters continue to wallow in ethereal misery.
Lost River epitomizes pretentiousness within the contemporary medium. If this sounds harsh, it’s because I mean for it to be as Gosling’s A-List allure doesn’t translate at all to his aspirations as a filmmaker. This isn’t to say he doesn’t know what he’s doing – technique, although affected by way of the aforementioned inspirations – yet to trail off as abruptly, ceaselessly and questionably as Lost River does throughout it’s latter half is baffling. Playing fast and loose with a simple narrative in favor of style is one thing, but pandering to your own perception of art is another, therefore Lost River is little more than a failed if partially promising exercise in experimental filmmaking.