Almost a year following its world premiere at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, “Lost River,” the directorial debut of mercurial talent Ryan Gosling has finally wandered onto screens across America via video on demand.
It’s likely that the loud chorus of boos that the film received from the Cannes audience has shelved the film for this long, but it’s important to remember that Cannes audiences also took Harmony Korine’s South Beach odyssey “Spring Breakers” — a film that holds up surprisingly well in retrospect — to task.
It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if critics will continue their boisterous disapproval as “Lost River” finally makes its way over to America, but a word of caution: Don’t lose sight of the forest for all of the trees when it comes to this film.
Released commercially in the United Kingdom with a limited U.S. run on Friday, the film has glimpses of brilliance masked in a world of confusion. Nothing about what happens in the 95-minute feature makes any sense.
For all the negativity surrounding this movie — and it will come washing down like the dams that symbolically flooded entire towns to help create the world of “Lost River” — what may very well be lost (no pun intended) within the discussion is that, at its core, it’s an art film.
Like its kindred spirit “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Gosling’s debut feature is an independent showcase of visual artistry loosely framed around recent socio-economic problems in the U.S. with dank, Detroit-esque Lost River replacing the Louisiana bayous found in “Beasts.”
There’s a whole of talent — including “Mad Men” veteran Christina Hendricks, former “Doctor Who” Matt Smith, Gosling love Eva Mendes and Saoirse Ronan of “The Grand Budapest Hotel — found onscreen for the tale of a single mother and her two sons trying to survive in a semi-post-apocalyptic outskirt of what is likely Detroit.
Two parts sci-fi, one part melodrama with splashes of horror tossed in for good measure — the film is not for the faint at heart as both Hendricks and Mendes perform graphic and grotesque mutilation scenes as part of an underground violence disco styled like a strip club.
Enigmatic from start to finish, “Lost River” bathes in its own uniqueness, reveling in an attempt to make every shot of the film feel like a canvas hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Western Art.
Gosling directs like an artist who believes he is painting a cinematic masterpiece with broad strokes of genius and he’s not entirely wrong in that assumption.
But yet again, the fatal flaw of “Lost River” is that none of it — from the acting to the plot to the cinematography and soundtrack — makes any sense. It’s a point that cannot be expressed enough.
Fans of Gosling hoping to catch a glimpse of the next stage of his career need to understand that the future holds more “Drive” than “The Notebook.”
How he navigates the waters of his own journey as an auteur will likely decide the ultimate fate of “Lost River,” a film that moviegoers need to make their own decisions about.