Okay, so I realize I’m probably gonna get a lot of crap for this post, but I’m writing it anyway. This is a post dedicated to Ryan Gosling. This is not a post dedicated to his toned abs, crooked smile, or the way he seems to stare straight out of the screen and into my soul–er, sorry, got a little carried away there… Ahem. As I was saying, this is a post dedicated to Ryan Gosling, because he is totally, 100 percent, kicking mother-loving ass right now. You can argue that 2011 was the Year of Charismatic French Men, or the Year of the Chastain, or even the Year of the (Adorable) Dog, but I will tell you that 2011 was the Year of the Gosling. Let me tell you why.
Ryan Gosling is not making mistakes. His career really started cooking in 2004, when he starred in the tearjerk-iest of all Nicholas Sparks’ adaptations: The Notebook. Ticket-holders everywhere sighed, swooned, and fell in love with Gosling’s Noah, the devoted lover who worked hard for what he wanted and built a home with his own two hands. Every woman I know (and a lot of men, too) lost their collective shit over this movie. I was among them.
This movie introduced us to brooding, tortured-soul Gosling, a type he’s developed and adapted in many of his roles. Now, usually a Romantic Lead becomes a Romantic Lead for Life, slowly languishing away in the same role, movie after movie. Hollywood has a way of saying “Hey, this works: so do it again.” Few have escaped this fate (Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio come to mind as two exceptions to the rule). That’s not to say that Gosling hasn’t played romantic men, but he’s somehow avoided becoming a cog in the Romantic Lead machine. He has instead consistently performed beautifully in quietly affecting films like Half Nelson (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, lest you forget!), Lars and the Real Girl, and Blue Valentine.
And then came 2011–the year that Gosling featured in a romantic comedy, a political drama, and an action film. Finding an actor capable of traversing genres is a tall order, but Gosling has done so with seeming ease. He received Golden Globe nominations for his performances in Crazy, Stupid, Love. and Ides of March, and starred in the critically acclaimed film Drive. In Crazy, Stupid, Love. Gosling surprised me with his comic timing, holding his own with comedy heavyweight Steve Carell. But it was his performance in Drive that impressed me most. When I left the theater I was overwhelmed and awed by Gosling’s haunting turn as Driver. The role capitalized on Gosling’s strengths–his ability to imbue silences with meaning through heavy looks, slight shifts in body language, and even the murmur of his voice.
He continues to impress me with his portrayals of loving but flawed men–men who are physically strong but yet somehow lost. Like Lars in Lars and the Real Girl and Dean in Blue Valentine, Driver is a man trapped by circumstance, trying with quiet, devoted desperation to make it all work out. Perhaps Roger Ebert said it best, when he remarked of Gosling in Drive: “He embodies presence and sincerity… [Gosling] has shown a gift for finding arresting, powerful characters. An actor who can fall in love with a love doll and make us believe it, as he did in Lars and the Real Girl, can achieve just about anything.” It’s this “sincerity” that I find most appealing and utterly unmatchable by Gosling’s peers; to me, when Gosling is playing a character he actually becomes the man. By comparison, when I watched George Clooney in The Descendants I felt as though I was watching Clooney-as-distraught-father, not Matt King crying over his dying wife. Clooney gives a strong and emotional performance, but he remains Clooney in a Matt King mask. Gosling, however, fully embodies his roles. He has a singular ability to pull me into the narrative through sheer force of believability. It’s astounding, really.
Yes, Gosling is the good-looking man who has inspired countless “Hey, Girl” internet memes, but he’s also the actor who gave what I consider the best performance of any actor in 2011. Driver is the strongest performance of his career, and I look forward to seeing what Gosling brings to the table in 2012. And if you’ve got something bad to say about him, well, to quote Driver, “How ’bout this. You shut your mouth. Or I’ll kick your teeth down your throat and I’ll shut it for you.”