It was after Wednesday midnight that I realized Tuesday was Ryan Gosling’s birthday. I should have remembered it. Two years ago I was at INFORMS, and had to drive to a suburban Charlotte Regal theater to see The Ides of March, which was then near the end of its theatrical stay; last year there was no Gosling in theatre at all, so I watched Lars and the Real Girl at home. Since this year I forgot to watch any of his movie on his birthday, I decided to write something about him. And this is it.
In fact, I did watched Only God Forgives and The Slaughter Rule later this week to make up my negligence. Anyone who watches these two movies together couldn’t fail to notice how much Ryan Gosling has changed in eleven years, from a Mouseketeer to the Sexiest Man Alive. Well, technically speaking People Magazine has unjustly overlooked Mr. Gosling for three years in a row, but I believe people won’t deny this fact. I mean, who else ever had fans protesting for him not being the sexiest and who else have 100 reasons to love?
So what happened in these years? Although I haven’t gone through Ryan Gosling’s entire filmography yet, missing a lot of his early films including The Believer, which brought him much praise (I am gonna save this one for next birthday!), I think 2010/2011 was the turning point. Before 2010, Ryan Gosling was high school football player (The Slaughter Rule, Remember the Titan), poor, unsophisticated country boy (The Notebook), inspirational yet drug addicted school teacher (Half Nelson), lonely, delusional stay-at-home guy (Lars and the Real Girl); he was sweet, handsome, always with the charm of innocence and exuberance. Then there came Blue Valentine and Drive, two masterpieces so rich, realistic, emotional, complicated that really made me believe in the magic of films. Blue Valentine was the sixth movie I watched in a movie theatre, and I didn’t even know Ryan Gosling back then. Now I am watching all new movies in theatre and he is my favorite actor. It was also in these two films, especially in Drive, Ryan Gosling turned a boy into a man, and discovered in his performance an ultimate attraction of masculinity. There is a scene in Drive, where the driver and the girl are in an elevator with a killer. The driver held the girl, kissed her passionately, then turned to the killer and crushed his skull into pulp. That tremendous contrast, is the capacity of a real man. What makes a man is not only muscles, fists and bloods, but also thoughts, emotions and faith; not only power and violence, but also love and compassion; it requires the perfect balance of tenderness and fearlessness. Gosling found that balance. Not only did he find it, he mastered it effortlessly as if to him that fatal attraction was just a natural outcome of ageing and maturity.
In the last three months of 2011, three movies starring Ryan Gosling were released in theatre. Drive, Crazy Stupid Love and The Ides of March brought him numerous awards including two Golden Globe nominations and made him not only the most versatile actor in Hollywood, but also a sex symbol. Then his mindset seemed start to change, in a very subtle way. He wasn’t bewildered by fame, he never appeared in stupid Hollywood blockbusters and maintained his standard high, but the enormous success of Blue Valentine and Drive are also too tempting to let go. So he continued collaboration with Derek Cianfrance in The Place Beyond the Pines and with Nicholas Widing Refn in Only God Forgives. When I heard the news, I fell into ecstasy and waited frantically, like a teenager waiting for his twenty-first birthday. Then they came, but with huge disappointment. I understand that part of this disappointment is due to the unreached expectation, but the more important part is that Ryan Gosling were simply repeating himself. Apart from the story settings, Gosling’s characters are the same man he was in Drive, and his performances were nothing new either. Watching him on big screen in three movies playing essentially the same guy, honestly I was getting a little bit bored.
The problem is, Ryan Gosling is now too aware of his irresistible hotness, he knows too damn well that he doesn’t need to do anything special to be attractive, and his allure shines most radiantly when he hides his soft, caring heart beneath his quiet, resolute look, and fights fiercely for his loved ones. What he doesn’t realize, is that to be a good actor isn’t always about being cool. Yes I love him as the driver, but I also love him as Dean, for bringing so much subtly and reality to the raw, poignant, indescribable suffering between love and marriage; and I love him as Lars, for giving a seemingly peculiar young guy a warm soul and plenty of likability to reconnect to the real world; and I love him as Mr. Dunne, for the arresting and convincing portrait of this complicated character struggling in his life through an unlikely yet heartfelt friendship. Those are all the best of Ryan Gosling, simple, genuine and powerful. So I do have a season to be disappointed, because in some sense, he is at his best in Drive and at the same time much better than just that.
I always believe Ryan Gosling is an Oscar-winner caliber actor, now he got one nod and Oscar owed him at least another. There is still a long way to go. His next project is, oh, holy shit, with Terrence Malick and Michael Fassbender. This will be extremely interesting. For one thing, I wonder what changes Malick’s trademark style can bring to him. For the other, Fassbender is without doubt Gosling’s strongest male co-star by far, their battle will be a feast and decide who is the best actor of their generation. My expectation is once again miles high. So Dear Ryan, please don’t let me down, and belated happy birthday.