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.
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