Monday, November 20, 2023

The Nice Guys: A Review



For the longest time, I deliberately avoided The Nice Guys. So many people were praising this film that it had the opposite effect on me and kept me away. It has built up this cult among certain circles as this delightful romp with 1970s trappings. At long last, I opted to give it a chance.

Now that I have seen The Nice Guys, I report that I will not be joining this cult.

Los Angeles, 1977. An adult film star who goes by the name of "Misty Mountains" dies in an apparent car accident. Was it a mere accident? Was it suicide? What about murder? Things become more confused when Misty's aunt, Lily Glenn (Lois Smith) insists that she saw Misty alive after the accident. She hires private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) to get to the bottom of this case.

Holland, however, was not counting on a fellow P.I., Jackson Healey (Russell Crowe). He is not above using brass knuckles and other dubious methods to get the job done. Right now, the job is to keep Holland away from Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley), whom has become involved in Holland's investigation.

However, both their cases lead back to Amelia, who faces danger due to her involvement in shady deals with the auto industry. Even her mother, Judith (Kim Basinger), who is with the Department of Justice, may be in cahoots with Detroit. What does this have to do with Misty Mountains and How Do You Like My Car, Big Boy? the newest Misty erotic film? More murder and mayhem envelop March, Holland and March's daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), the wisecracking and shrewd Nancy Drew. The case is finally solved, and to March's surprise he finds himself now partners with Healey, who has opened up a new detective agency under the banner "The Nice Guys".

I find it a very curious aspect of Ryan Gosling's career that, no matter how often he tries, I never believe him in a comedic role. Be it in films like Crazy, Stupid, Love or La La Land or Barbie or in this case, The Nice Guys, Gosling always comes across to me as someone who is trying too hard to be funny. It is as if he is too self-conscious that he is supposed to be funny rather than just be funny. It is, to my mind, a suggestion that Gosling does not trust the material or thinks the material is so funny that it will lift him up. 

I think there is a calculated manner to Gosling's comedic performances, and The Nice Guys is no exception. With a deliberately blank face and spouting off the allegedly funny lines in a staccato manner, Gosling is determined to make us laugh. The section where he is cornered in the bathroom stall is meant to be funny. He and Crowe do their best to make it so. I watched, not in puzzlement, but in almost boredom, aware that everyone is playing it funny without actually being funny.

"You know who else was following orders? Hitler.", March says at one point. It just did not work for me. Over and over, I could not shake the notion that Gosling felt he was smarter than the material and the character. As such, his job apparently was not to create Holland March, but to be Ryan Gosling attempting to play a character named Holland March.

Gosling, however, was not the only one who was deliberately mannered in his performance. Crowe too worked hard to make his brawler into a comic figure. Like with Gosling, however, I never believed it.

Truth be told, a lot of Shane Black's writing (with Anthony Bagarozzi) and direction pointed to the idea that everyone thought The Nice Guys was funny. We have stock characters (the dumb father, the gruff enforcer, the wisecracking teen). Worse, we have situations that force the humor. When Jackson, Holland and Holly face off against Tally (Yaya DaCosta), Judith's assistant and henchwoman, the physical comedy of Holly splashing coffee on her only to find that it is cold left me cold. The "witty banter" about the coffee being cold did not help.

Black and Bagarozzi's screenplay really works at being quick and quippy. I again felt it forced and obvious.  

I do give credit to how The Nice Guys captured the 1970's aesthetic. On that, the film did well, looking as if it came from the era of disco and bell bottoms. 

However, I did not laugh at The Nice Guys. I think it is because I figured that it was simply trying too hard and was too obvious for me. It is certainly a cult film, adored by many people. I do not know exactly why it has this passionate fanbase but bless them for their passion. I just cannot share it.


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