Ryan Gosling has recently become something of a new-age Steve McQueen to a certain segment of film lovers. The thirtysomething actor broke through to mainstream viewers in the weepy Nicholas Sparks’ melodrama The Notebook, but it’s his later work—in more emotionally unflinching films like Drive and Blue Valentine—that has brought him more critical acclaim, as well as a new and widely varied audience of men and women alike.
That rare double-edged appeal—the tough guy with the sensitive side—has also led to a peculiar Internet fame spearheaded by the Fuck Yeah! Ryan Gosling blog, composed mostly of paparazzi and press shots of Gosling overlaid with soft sentiments that always begin with “Hey, girl…” and usually end with something involving cuddling. It’s numerous spinoffs and imitators have landed at least one blogger a book deal: Feminist Ryan Gosling can now be found at places like Urban Outfitters, alongside books such as F*ck! I’m In My Twenties and I Hate Everyone (actual titles).
But while his place in pop culture was solidifying, the actor continued to work, and this week a new film from the director of Blue Valentine gives filmgoers a chance to see what Gosling has been up to since he hit the bookshelves. The Place Beyond The Pines is a vastly ambitious story told in three parts by director Derek Cianfrance, with Gosling right back in the Steve McQueen mold.
He stars as Luke, a motorcycle stunt rider who works in a traveling circus. When the troupe sets down in Schenectady (the title is a loose translation of the Mohawk name for the area), Luke looks up Romina (Eva Mendes), an old flame he hasn’t seen since the last time he came through town. It must have been a while ago; Romina is now mom to her and Luke’s son Jason. Struck by his sudden fatherhood, Luke decides to quit the circus and put down roots as best he can—despite the fact that Romina is now living with another man.
Finding work as a mechanic, Luke is soon lured into a criminal world that can make use of his natural riding ability. It sounds suspiciously like the 2011 film Drive—in which Gosling played a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlighted as a getaway man for hire to local bank robbers—but Cianfrance’s film is less stylized than that noir-and-neon story, and tinged more by its own Northeastern environs, where roots tend to run deep.
That strong sense of family proves to be complicated when Luke’s new line of work attracts the attention of local cop Avery (Bradley Cooper), another father struggling to balance family and occupation. Eager to escape from the rule of a corrupt detective (Ray Liotta), Avery pins his hopes on Luke, triggering a sequence of events that will come to affect not just the lives of the two men, but the futures of their infant sons.
Also this week: Up in Shelburne Falls, Pothole Pictures continues its weekend movie tradition with Dirty Dancing, the Patrick Swayze picture that defied its goofy roots—an awkward teenager is forced to fill in as the partner for the dance instructor at a Catskills resort—to become a lasting pleasure for an entire generation of moviegoers.
Swayze, of course, is the teacher, whose name—Johnny Castle—should give you an idea of the tenor of the film; a young Jennifer Grey (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) co-stars as Frances “Baby” Houseman, the product of a well-to-do family that has planned out her entire future without stopping to ask her how she feels about it. When the two meet, worlds collide, sparks fly, and everybody is changed. Presented in part by the Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival, the Friday and Saturday night screenings will be preceded by live music on the venerable Memorial Hall stage.•
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.