Saturday night and the kids were invited over next door so Claudia and I had the opportunity to watch a movie together, old school – no headphones. I suggested something that would make the room vibrate in the genre of loud thrilling action movie but she wanted comedy, which was fine with me because Claudia knows how to choose a good movie in any genre. To mutually satisfy, she suggested comedy / action with the perfect choice – Spy with Melissa McCarthy. But dammit, it was $19 on Google Play. We ended up with Drive with Ryan Gosling because of the 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Ok, nice, we were set for something special – according to the reviews, anyway. Claudia liked it but I think she was influenced by the fact that she chose the movie and decided to wear it personally – even in the face of the abundant grisly violence for which she normally she has zero tolerance. Besides, she had the 93% rating to back her up and, not without its due, she’s a Ryan Gosling fan. But I can’t figure out why critics would honestly like this movie, unless they are 16 year-olds who are either in love with Ryan Gosling or fanatically enthusiastic about anything that is different than the retreads they’ve been consuming – which, I believe, is responsible for all the great reviews which spoke at length about the wonderful mix of what’s wonderfully different about Drive. Wow, cool, it’s different! However, Drive fails on many levels but it especially fails in the ways that it’s different.
This story is about a character, the one played by Ryan Gosling. There is no reason to tell this story if it weren’t for a close up look at this character because the story just has the regular ingredients: guy, girl, bad guys, crimes. So for there to be a reason to watch other than cute faces and grisly violence it has to be about a particular character which makes telling all this same stuff about fast cars, romance and bad guys interesting. You can see the creative attempts of the director and actor, indicating they understand their mission but unfortunately they don’t succeed. First of all, who is this person? We never find out! In fact, his name in the credits is ‘Driver.’ Oh, that’s the point, you say? He’s nobody, he could be anybody. I ask you, how would it be if you just saw Walt in Breaking Bad just cooking the meth and running from the bad dudes and never knew he had cancer, no adequate health insurance and got pushed out of his original company years before? Kinda important to know the backstory of a character in a character driven story, right? He’s not ‘anybody’ and whoever he is, he started somewhere and became that way. Backstory makes it engaging, dramatic and, most important, more believable because we are shown how a person like this could exist and that sets up the premise – let’s take that guy and put him in this situation = compelling story. How will he navigate this problem different from most other guys? That’s what we’re putting our butts in the chair to see. Where will he end up? I want to know and I want it to be something I’ve never felt in some way. Like Taxi Driver. We see Travis make different choices because he’s a different sort of character and therefore ends up in a very different place, making us go Holy Shit! The point is, if the drama and interest in the story does not flow from the character in this type of story, you have nothing. Unlike The Terminator, which flows from the concept / premise – character is secondary.
So character backstory is important and hinging on this is the casting. Not saying Ryan Gosling doesn’t have what it takes to do this (except for the fact that he’s too good looking for this role; see him in Crazy, Stupid, Love he’s perfectly cast) but the choices made here by Gosling and the director, Nicolas Winding Refn, are all wrong. It would have been more believable to see an awkward, unattractive dude with a big nose and eyes too far apart cast in this role. An introvert who always had a hard time making friends, which is why he joined the marines – to make friends – and became an efficient killer, an amazing driver and very cool/capable under pressure. It would have been interesting to see his connection to others and feelings of validation come from something twisted like being a good guy to have around when the enemy storms your trench. But now he’s trying to make his life in L.A. and make a connection to a woman. How will he do this? A good looking guy does not end up in this situation. He does not need a car to attract women and most guys driving sports cars aren’t the cutest. They’re usually ugly, old, or both. They tried to degrade Goslings attractiveness by not having being able to speak – the screenwriter, Hossein Amini was in on this too, not giving Ryan or Carey Mulligan for that matter enough to say. Roll camera, Action! – stare, stare, half-smile, stare, end of scene. So many ridiculous scenes of Ryan and Carey just friggin staring at each other made my jaw drop for all the wrong reasons, as they supposedly fall head over heels in love. What’s your favorite color, damnit! Falling in love, indeed. Why? Because they’re so damn cute, right? The problem is, the silence lacks realism. People aren’t comfortable with all that silence and if they are, they’re on drugs or half dead. All of this cute staring is, again, fine for sixteen year-olds because their unfulfilled dreams of love with someone really cute will jam the scene full of their own voice and they’ll get off on the (contrived) melancholy soundtrack giving credence to everything they feel and think. Nothing wrong with any of that, by the way, but the rating should have been “93% for 16 year-olds.” Critics called it “style” to justify how boring, groundless, pointless, it really is or perhaps feeling insecure about giving a negative review to something that is different than the usual Hollywood fodder. Not the first time that happened.
But I sat through it, mostly because I liked just sitting next to Claudia for two hours but also because I figured with a 93% Rotten Tomatoes rating, the final act has to be good! But no, unfortunately it plods through to the end, flat, predictable, slow, and grisly…and stupid. It’s the best collection of aimless creativity signifying nothing that I have seen in a long time. In the final shots of the film, the doorbell rang, the kids were back and I went to answer. I still don’t know if Gosling’s character got back together with the girl or died or what – who cares? I never knew who he was anyway so I had no reason to care.