F.I.L.M. of the Week (February 23, 2017)

23 02 2017

I first saw Ryan Fleck’s “Half Nelson” a few years ago and, admittedly, was not impressed. Perhaps the film fell victim to high expectations. Critics and cinephiles put it on a pedestal for so long, citing Ryan Gosling’s Academy Award-nominated work as evidence that he amounted to more than just a Tumblr heartthrob. Yet I was unmoved.

For whatever reason, I decided to check it out again given Gosling’s recent Oscar nominated turn in “La La Land” – and a general reversal of fortune for his career altogether. Further inspection of “Half Nelson” reveals a remarkable two-sided performance that fully captures the actor’s versatility. From my early ’10s vantage point, I probably saw a reflection of what I consider Gosling’s worst tendencies: an exaggerated machismo where his smolder goes hand in hand with the stoicism. When contextualized within his films of that time – “Drive,” “The Ides of March,” “Gangster Squad,” “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “Only God Forgives” – the turn as a junior high history teacher who resolutely refuses intimacy and embraces drug needles feels like the genesis of a dour period.

But after the exuberance of “The Nice Guys” and “La La Land,” Gosling’s cheerier streak opened up another side of “Half Nelson” that now vaults into “F.I.L.M. of the Week” territory. His Dan Dunne has a streak of incorrigible impetuousness, particularly when digressing from the assigned curriculum to instruct with a more philosophical slant on the past. He projects such confidence when he dwells in his element, a fitting and necessary contrast to his moments of vulnerability to cocaine. Reconciling the highs with the lows presents a difficult task for any performer, and Gosling nailed it at just 26 years old. He’s also fortunate to create this character under the auspices of a thoughtful script from Fleck and Anna Boden, who avoid all the pratfalls of drug addict or other self-destructive protagonist narratives.





REVIEW: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

15 06 2011

Any good movie fan instantly associates insane asylums with “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” Milos Forman’s classic that is one of only three films ever to score Oscar’s Big Five (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay).  It’s a ridiculously unfair standard for any movie to be measured against, so naturally, when a movie like “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” comes along that treads similar waters, it can’t help but disappoint coming straight out of the gate.  The dramedy just exacerbates the disparity by dealing with the thin line between sanity and insanity in a noticeably more juvenile manner.

The movie piddles around in the messed-up mind of narrator Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist), a suicidal teenager who checks himself into a psychiatric hospital after failing to execute a plan to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.  As we find out, he’s just a little misunderstood, buckling under the pressure of being a teenager in the modern world.  And since I’m eighteen and heading off to college, I should totally understand and relate, right?  Wrong.  Craig is hardly a sympathetic character, and Gilchrist portrays him so awkwardly that it’s really hard to care about anything that happens to him.

Thankfully, directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden – who have fallen far from their 2006 debut feature “Half Nelson” – don’t saddle us with only watching Craig deal with his demons for the whole movie.  They stock the nuthouse with other mildly amusing characters, primarily Zach Galifianakis as fellow patient Bobby.  He brings a few laughs but mainly makes you wonder whether Alan from “The Hangover” belongs in an institution since he’s not all that different from his character here.  There’s also some corny, schmaltzy romance between Craig and Noelle, played by Emma Roberts, which doesn’t work at all since the two have zero chemistry.  It’s hard to believe this movie came from an esteemed novel, so do yourself a favor and watch the aforementioned acclaimed movie based on an acclaimed novel.  C /