SXSW Film review: ‘Lost River’ gets better reception in Austin

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Christina Hendricks in "Lost River."
Christina Hendricks in "Lost River."

Christina Hendricks in “Lost River.”

If Twitter reaction is any indication, Ryan Gosling’s feature debut, “Lost River,” is getting a far better reception in Austin than it did during its world premiere last May in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar.

Various tweets proclaimed it a masterpiece and an ambitious debut. But that probably doesn’t mean that the studio will change its plans to put it in limited release and Video on Demand at the same time in April. Still, it’s probably gratifying to Gosling, who appeared at the South by Southwest premiere Saturday night.

In contrast to his appearance in Cannes, Gosling tried to make his intentions with “Lost River” clear in Austin, mostly in conversation with Mexican director and friend Guillermo del Toro.

Gosling says the movie has lots of autobiographical elements. He grew up in Canada with a single mother, he says, similar to the one played by Christina Hendricks in “Lost River.” He was always worried about her, thinking that all men “were wolves,” and there are plenty of male wolves in “Lost River.” There was a road near his home that led into a river that had been dammed, and there were buildings underneath the lake, which he said freaked him out. And there’s a similar scene in “Lost River.”

And, perhaps most importantly, he grew up thinking that Detroit was the symbol of America, with it car industry and music. So the recent decline of Detroit has had a big impact on his visions of the U.S. In “Lost River,” he’s clearly seeing Detroit as a symbol of
the decline of the American dream, at least for some citizens.

So, there are lots of reasons to respect Gosling’s efforts. But the movie has some downright weird moments, and that’s not going to play as well with a general audience in the United States. The oddest moments come when Hendricks starts working at a strange nightclub — and where she’s clearly sexually threatened by a particular male wolf.

It’s all part of a fairy tale, Gosling told del Toro, and to be fair, fairy tales can be very dark. Gosling is to be commended for making a very ambitious feature debut. That probably won’t be enough, however, to make “Lost River” a financial success.

By the way, the Twitterverse erupted Saturday night when a female audience member at the “Lost River” screening proposed marriage to her female partner. The proposal ended well, with acceptance.

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