Lost River review: ‘Ryan Gosling succumbs to the anxiety of influence’

Alan Laidlaw delivers a review of Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut feature Lost River – an ill-conceived mess of a film

“Labour of love” is a term which is shoved around a lot, and more often than not its connotations are rooted in the positive – as if love and tenderness inevitably produces something of a certain quality or merit. There are no doubts Ryan Gosling’s debut feature Lost River will be attributed with this very notion.

It’s a kaleidoscopic frenzy of influences, dripping with sentiment and boasting a world which feels entirely personal to its creator. This is all well and good; after all, love is in the fabric of every truly great cinematic endeavour. Unfortunately, what is glaringly neglected in this film is any sense of restraint or artistic sensibility. Lost River confusingly plays out like the poster-plastered wall of a teenager: embellished with everything one holds dearest, but with absolutely no regards given to sophisticated curation.

Lost River is, above all things, a gothic fairytale exhibiting obvious snippets of Lynchian tensions, doused in Malikian wonderment and torched to cinders with the futuristic noir of Leos Carax.

It revolves around a highly unfocused narrative detailing the bleak lives of a single mother (Christina Hendricks) and her eldest son (Iain De Caestecker) – both of whom, in their own separate paths, creep deeper into the seedy underbelly of a rural Detroit wasteland (an aesthetic intersection of Beasts of The Southern Wild and Blue Velvet).

The mother, owing to financial restraints, gets a job working in a cabaret/fairground/futuristic masochist club where she’s subjected to the creepy gaze of her bank manager/employer, while her son, accompanied by a loner hipster musician (Saoirse Ronan), has numerous altercations with a local town bully.

You get the general idea (or lack thereof). It’s a plot that is exceptionally convoluted and vague, so following it is ultimately secondary to whatever semblance of a positive experience can be gleaned from Lost River.

Frustratingly, Gosling seemingly concentrates all of his energy into making Lost River look as cool and atmospheric as possible. At times he manages to vomit out some highly stylised, attractive framing, with the help of the ever beautifying cinematographer Benoit Debie (Enter The Void, Spring Breakers).

However, this is a minor and quick lived victory, as it soon becomes apparent the images have no proper substance or necessity – making Lost River seem merely like a hollowed out impression of an achingly beautiful film. With his debut Gosling clearly shows he has a vision – whether or not it’s a unique or interesting one is, on the back of this effort, debatable.

Lost River is in cinemas now.