Ryan Gosling is a great actor. He may even deserve an Oscar this year. Perhaps he’ll get one — but probably not, since his name isn’t Casey Affleck. But on the off-chance that he does stumble onto the stage of L.A.’s Dolby Theatre in a week-plus, he’ll be singing the praises of “La La Land” (but hopefully not actually singing, since he’s merely OK at that). In a just world, he’d be thanking Shane Black and Russell Crowe, the writer-director and co-star of “The Nice Guys,” in which Gosling gave the second finest male lead performance of 2016 (after, of course, Casey Affleck). Alas, it's not only a comedy, but an action-comedy, and the Academy doesn't do either, let alone both put together.
This hot take is no slight on The Gosling’s turn in “La La Land.” We won’t even make fun of how he looks at his feet during dance numbers. But what is Oscar-worthy about the performance except that it was front and center in a movie that’s made people a little too crazy? Apart from a bit where he plays keytar, it’s Gosling in laconic movie star mode, either looking suave or brooding up a storm. He can do that in his sleep. And you know what? Screw it — no performer should even be nominated for a musical in which he or she looks at their feet while dancing. That’s an immediate disqualification.
Meanwhile, in “The Nice Guys,” Gosling battles a bathroom stall door with the grace and precision of a silent movie god. He does a mean Lou Costello raspy howl. He struggles to drunkenly pronounce “Baryshnikov.” He cries like a banshee being electrocuted as Russell Crowe gives him a spinal fracture of the left radius. He tries to bribe a bartender with a bill origami’d into a shirt. He positively murders the line, “I had to question the mermaids!”
Not to box Gosling in — variety, after all, is the spice of life — but the best Gosling is funny Gosling. He’ll give you that “Hey girl” stare if you want, but he’s secretly a weirdo. You don’t always see that, but it’s there. When we spoke to him circa “The Nice Guys,” Gosling a) deadpanned a joke about singing “End of the Road” to us over the phone (“all four parts”), and b) said that he always slips in weird funny moments, even when the film is deadly serious. Only “Half-Nelson” kept such bits in the final cut. And so this earnest and po-faced indie, in which Gosling is amazing as a teacher-cum-crack addict, is peppered with odd asides, like the dorky calculator watch Gosling insisted on wearing, and the loud American flag Band-Aid he puts over his split lip after one of the more dramatic encounters.