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Pop Culture Advent Calendar, Day 23: Gosling's Lou-Costello-Take In 'The Nice Guys'

Once a day, until Dec. 25, we'll be highlighting a specific small, good thing that happened in popular culture this year. And we do mean small: a moment or image from a film or TV show, a panel from a comic, a brief exchange from a podcast, or a passage from a book.

A take, in theater parlance, is a performer's physical reaction to a given stimulus.

Vaudeville comedians honed the take into an art form. Performers became identified with the slow burn, the double-take, the triple-take.

In the comedy duo Abbott and Costello, Bud Abbott's role was to supply the given stimulus, and Lou Costello's role was to supply the take. Usually, a Costello take was no mere flick of the head, it was a full-body contortion, matched to wild gesticulations and a characteristic species of high, panicked, voiceless panting.

Smash cut to: this year's brilliant noir/action/thriller/comedy The Nice Guys, directed by Shane Black, written by Black and Anthony Bagarozzi.

Set in the pleathery, shag-carpeted Los Angeles of the 1970s, The Nice Guys stars Russell Crowe as a hard-as-nails tough guy and Ryan Gosling as a hard-as-pudding private eye. Young Angourie Rice, as Gosling's hilariously clear-eyed daughter, nearly makes off with the movie, which is a feat, considering how much is going on in it.

But back to Gosling: he's never been funnier than he is here, deliberately and savagely undercutting his leading-man charisma with a performance that's all squirrelly bluster and frayed wiring. It's big, it's marked by some bold choices, but man, it works.

Take the scene in the film — included in the trailer, above — in which a drunk Gosling falls from a balcony in the Hollywood Hills and discovers a dead body.

What happens next — the way Gosling's take positively channels that of Lou Costello meeting Dracula — is so weird and broad that it grand-jetés right up the very edge of breaking the film, but it doesn't. It simply adds to this movie's considerably shaggy, idiosyncratic, and stylish charm.

Previous Pop Culture Advent Calendar Entries

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9

Day 10

Day 11

Day 12

Day 13

Day 14

Day 15

Day 16

Day 17

Day 18

Day 19

Day 20

Day 21

Day 22

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