Fact: Ryan Gosling is an actor. Fact: Ryan Gosling is famous. Fact: Ryan Gosling is successful. Question: Does Ryan Gosling deserve this success? Is he as talented as his astronomical stardom suggests?
This is actually a pretty hot topic in online forums. These conversations can go like this: Person A says, “He sucks.” Person B cites the movies “Blue Valentine” and “Drive” as counterpoints to Person A’s claim. Person C comes to the defense of Person A and says, “Agreed. He’s a pretty sh**** actor.” Person D intervenes and offers the opinion, “he’s over8ed. He only gets jobs cuz of his looks.”
Some of these seminars also take place on online bodybuilding forums, which serve surprisingly well for milked-up muscle bloggers who have a variety of opinions on Ryan Gosling’s talents. Most criticised him as an overrated “aesthetic” actor and as “the romantic guy.” They also had things to say about his body and physique which one contributor described as “mediocre at best.” Then they started talking about Channing Tatum for some reason.
His critics primarily go off of one movie alone, “The Notebook,” which made many, like, dudes (bros) view him as simply the romantic, tender, manly man who was always falling in and out of love. That’s fair. He was and is way better than every other man at being romantic and portraying romance. In “The Notebook” he plays a bearded, can’t-harm-a-fly lover of another. The character is somewhat clichéd, thin, and flat. It presented him with the challenge of seeming really in love with someone else—and that’s the premise of “The Notebook.” His character in reality had little depth, but Ryan Gosling did his best to inject at least a little bit of intrigue to a painfully plain character. Unfortunately, those in the stubborn blogosphere look over his other roles that show his talents and they refuse to swallow their pride and explore his obscenely diverse filmography.
There’s a smorgasbord of traits that can make someone a “good” actor, but the one to focus on for Ryan Gosling is versatility. Versatility for an actor means they can play roles that are different from one another—such as being able to play a matador or a lawyer or a middle school swim instructor or a cactus—and be able to pull it off believably. Many actors can do this with varying degrees of success; Ryan Gosling undoubtedly possesses more versatility than what those puffy Cheeto-fingered bloggers seem to think.
He is not overrated. In fact, apart from being a great romantic lead capable of wearing a white t-shirt better than anyone else in “the biz” and on the planet, he has given every indication through the diverse roles he plays that he is much more than his role of Noah in “The Notebook.”
Among his thick repertoire of roles, four stand out that show his versatility: the arrogant, money-hungry wall street banker of “The Big Short”; the soft and deluded troubled man of “Lars and the Real Girl”; the bad boy of “Drive”; and the singer, dancer, piano player and jazz enthusiast of “La La Land.” These parts he’s taken on do a number of things. One, they challenge the shade he’s gotten from “The Notebook,” and two, they show the breadth of his capabilities as not only an actor but as an entertainer. His talents go far beyond the romantic lover-boy with “a mediocre” bod, and each one of these films proves a different facet to his undeniable talent.
If the 2004 movie “The Notebook” painted Ryan Gosling as this charming and tender lover who could snap like a twig, the 2015 movie “The Big Short” served as his chance to playfully dismantle this image in one fell swoop.
In “The Big Short,” he isn’t charming Ryan Gosling at all. In fact, he’s self-serving, big-money banker Jared Vennett. The below clip shows his despicable nature with one of the strongest—in terms of comedy—moments when he expresses overt racism when describing his “quant.”
Throughout the movie, Ryan Gosling shows this level of serpentine slickness that is so uncharacteristic of his other roles, but works perfectly, simply because he’s normally regarded as such a sweet guy. Importantly, it’s believable—he totally inhabits this role as a money-minded suit. He looks and comes off like kind of a sleaze but makes it seem effortless. His character lacks any sort of moral compass or ethical restraint—he doesn’t bat an eye at making so much money off of other people’s misfortunes. From Ryan Gosling, it’s a refreshing representation of a highly scrutinized and hated class of society. This role shows that he isn’t afraid to step out of the typical lover-boy pocket of roles that’s given him so much success; in fact, he fully embraces the switch-up. He’s venomous and reprehensible and over-the-top-unsympathetic—in a good way. To be clear, it’s addicting to watch our friend Ryan Gosling behave like a jerk. Maybe there’s some sort of thrill to watching jerks be jerks, but most assuredly, Ryan Gosling can play the jerk. If someone didn’t know who Ryan Gosling was prior to watching this role (God forbid), it’s quite possible they’d hate him.
Let’s think about this role from another perspective. The fact that Ryan Gosling was already pretty widely loved as a “sweet guy” before this role shouldn’t overshadow or undermine his acting performance in “The Big Short” as his “The Notebook” opposite at all—because playing the converse of what you’re known for can do that. That is to say, playing a one-off “douche” part when you’re usually a “good guy” can give you an easy pass acting-wise. While this definitely enhances the joy we get in seeing him spout out racial slurs concerning his “quant,” the fact of the matter is, he embraces the part and makes it his own and he’s great to watch on screen being a total jerk—and good gracious, he’s good at it.
Then there’s the understated indie role he takes up in “Lars and the Real Girl.” Ryan Gosling plays Lars, a mustachioed, soft-spoken gentleman with a nice sweater who falls in love with a sex toy named Bianca that he bought online. The trouble is, he believes Bianca to be sentient. He uses an interesting combination of sweetness and social ineptitude, that paints him as a tragic character more than anything.
In this scene for example, he sits very rigidly and acts politely, showing unexpected class and chivalry in front of a sex toy. It’s clear that Ryan Gosling’s playing field is romance, but in “Lars,” he embodies an entirely different persona. Lars, at his core, is nervous, depressed, and deluded, and Ryan Gosling fills it tastefully. He colors the love he feels for a sex doll so beautifully that it portrays a very delicate situation with grace. It’s a character that’s tricky to pull off without it feeling gimmicky to the viewer, yet Ryan Gosling does it with so much conviction and earnestness that we begin to honestly believe that we will never be able to treat our loved ones (probably the same ones sitting next to us while watching this movie) with as much care and devotion as Ryan Gosling treats a sex doll that came out of a wooden box.
(For you to understand better, know that the rest of the town becomes supportive of his delusion.)
It’s a performance that is totally off key from his more typical romantic performances in moves such as “Crazy Stupid Love” or “The Notebook.” “Lars and the Real Girl” doesn’t show that he can be romantic. Instead, it reveals his ability to add believable and emotional depth into a character that is as complicated to portray as Lars.
Then there’s his performance in “Drive.” All you need to do is watch the intro sequence to see what he’s all about.
He broods. He broods hard. He smolders too. Always smoldering. He broods and smolders with poise. “Drive” feels like a noir with a neon lights backdrop. How does our Ryan Gosling fit in? Perfectly. He plays a lowly car mechanic and a chauffeur for people committing a heist or crime of some sort. (Which do you think is more compelling?) He of course does all of this while wearing a really cool jacket with a scorpion embroidered on the back. For “Drive,” he’s mastered this facial expression of calmness in difficult situations. Simply put, Ryan Gosling abandons the abused puppy dog look in favor of a more Neo from “The Matrix” kind of composure—except he replaces the cluelessness of Neo with actual intelligence. Yet behind the graceful beauty in this character there’s the brutal and bubbling madness.
NSFW (because of the violence, not the kiss):
At his core, the character is violent to the point of gratuitousness. Sure, the guy was trying to kill him, but he stomps this gentleman’s head in pretty aggressively. It’s heinous, yet somehow Ryan Gosling pulls it off with grace. He’s able to take his bread-and-butter tender love and spice it up with some julienned vegetables—deep down brutality—and fit it all into this three minute scene.
Note: He gives her the “I’m sorry, baby, this is what I am!” look at the end of the clip.
It isn’t the normal lover we see in Ryan Gosling’s more romantic roles, because here he’s adept at murder with the heel of his boot. There’s some warmth behind the vulgarity because it’s fueled with the piping-hot fire of love, but it’s still a pretty neat portrayal of a romantic, albeit a flawed one—because, you know, he kills people. His character progression towards rage and darkness throughout “Drive” dismantles the poise he showed at the start of the movie. Viewers begin to wonder what exactly he’s capable of. Is he as composed as his introduction to the movie seemed to portray? Absolutely not. Yes, it’s the magic of filmmaking but it’s also the magic of Ryan Gosling’s acting.
Most recently, Ryan Gosling portrayed the jazz enthusiast Sebastian in 2016’s musical “La La Land.” Sebastian believes himself to be one of the remaining saviors of traditional jazz. He’s arrogant, but unfortunately, he must stay afloat financially by accepting a job with Keith’s (John Legend) commercially-sized jazz band.
His performance in “La La Land” is twofold. For one, it verifies his acting chops, but it shows his talents go beyond that by displaying his acute musical sense. For those who haven’t tracked his career since he was a wee boy, in his youth he took the stage with Justin Timberlake for the Mickey Mouse Club. While he may not have the same absurd range his young vocal chords allowed, it’s clear he hasn’t lost his knack for entertaining through singing and dancing. Moreover, he practiced for four to five hours a day for three to four months to get dope at the piano. That’s more or less what makes his role in “La La Land” stand out amongst his other roles. Yes, he plays a romantic lead and this movie is a love story, but in a way, “La La Land” brings together everything we know about his versatility as an actor with the addition of his widely unknown musical abilities and ties it all together for a lovely performance.
We see flecks of his his past roles in there too: arrogance from “The Big Short,” tenderness and distress from “Lars and the Real Girl”—he unfortunately doesn’t kill anyone so it’s hard to take something from his Drive performance to bring into “La La Land.” These traits comprise Sebastian’s character. He’s arrogant and prideful but also tender and passionate. Yes, he sounds great when he sings and looks great when he dances, and yes, he shreds impressively on the piano, but it’s the coolest when Ryan interlaces Sebastian’s character traits with these musical abilities.
Take. for example, the musical number “A Lovely Night,” during which Ryan Gosling is walking with Emma Stone’s character Mia to find their cars after a party. It’s a song about how they admit to there being no spark between them and they’re stuck together, wasting what could otherwise be a lovely and perfect night. Ryan struts confidently, hands in pockets and dances pridefully—as though a relationship with Mia is beneath him, yet he dances fluidly like a pretty swan. He sounds and looks confident. Then, for example, we have the final musical number “Epilogue,” which takes place a few years after they part ways, during which Mia enters Sebastian’s jazz club and Ryan gets on the piano to play the song that links them together. There are no words shared or lyrics crooned, but we see Ryan Gosling playing the keys dripping with the love he still feels for Mia and the tender affection behind Sebastian’s character.
By these job requirements alone, it should silence Ryan Gosling critics who label him as “talentless.” He weaves together his acting and musical talents for an effective performance.
Bodybuilders are trying to hammer a square peg into a circle hole when it comes to talking about acting talent. The rest of us of flabbier arms and pudgier bellies however, love you, Ryan Gosling.