Comment: A Whole Lot Of Gosling

Comment: A Whole Lot Of Gosling

Ryan Gosling © NY mag

Above this sentence is a picture of Ryan Gosling. Look at him there. Look at his sexyness. I chose that photo. I had a lot of choice. There exist so many portraits of Ryan Gosling it really makes me wonder how he has time for anything else not least a highly successful and artistically fulfilling movie career.

Ryan Gosling is a film actor, in theory. But in practice, oh he’s so much more. He’s a movie star, a new brand of movie star, a new brand of male movie star. He’s a successor to James Stewart, to Marlon Brando, to Brad Pitt, to Will Smith. He’s a male lead that can sell a movie just by being in it. Except that he doesn’t.

Ryan Gosling is himself a meme. He’s an icon that has become ubiquitous without as much aid from journalists and print media and more from the power of the people (Huzzah!). The countless blogs dedicated to displaying pictures and memes of him are a testament to his popularity, likeability and status as a contemporary icon.

He’s not the only one.  Andrew Garfield, Daniel Radcliffe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Franco are just a few of the examples of new Hollywood male stars who combine their good looks and charisma with a sense of humour and quirkiness to play directly into the hands of the adoring internet public. A clear sense of identity adds to the mix as well. Ryan Gosling picks his projects well. He finds time to do both the art-house darlings like Blue Valentine and Half Nelson and the mainstream box office darlings likeCrazy, Stupid, Love and The Ides Of March. He also clearly has a genuine love and appreciation for the craft of acting. Him and the other actors I mentioned seem in control, not yet at the mercy of the studios and producers but seemingly at the mercy of only their own choices, all of which seem relatively sound (as of August 2012).

Obviously, charismatic male leads are no new phenomenon and the younger generation still have to contest with the Dicaprios and Pitts of the previous generation but the difference seems to be in the changing role of the icon. It’s no longer enough to be a great star that appears in great films and occasionally does great interviews. To be an icon you have to, to a certain extent, be seemingly more at one with your public, whether it be via your own efforts or not. It’s as if these actors are in on the game with you. They’ve infiltrated the upper ranks of the film industry and you, the ordinary film going public, are right there with them.

Their sense of humour and their quirks corrodes the image of the deluded mega rich movie star who we can all laugh at a little, enjoy their films and point out how much of a different planet they live on from us. This new generation don’t seem to live on another planet, they’re fully aware of the lunacies of the business they are in but they love what they do, treat it carefully and with respect and don’t let the success get to their head.

The look of the new male movie star has also changed. It’s all part of the normal guy image. Of course the names and examples I used are all very good-looking men but perhaps not in the traditional sense. You only have to see a young Ryan Gosling in Murder by Numbers to see that he’s grown into his looks and it seems to be quite a common consensus that Andrew Garfield and Robert Pattinson have more a quirky handsomeness and sex appeal than traditional straight up good looks.

This new generation of male movie stars are also unlike their previous generation in as much as they can’t be relied on to sell a movie just by being in it. Their discerning choices are proof of this. The public can be more fickle than ever. Choose wisely or someone else will replace you. If you have an occasional dud we might forgive you depending on the strength of your previous and/or forthcoming projects. Pick something smart; pick something for the right reasons, work with a film to create something special, not to just be the main face on a poster. Ryan Reynolds is a strong example of someone whose popularity has waned in light of one too many duds. Despite his talent, good looks and charm he seems no longer a favourite of bloggers and the like. More Adventurelands and less Green Lanterns and things might have been different, would that it were Ryan. Sheer star power is in a sense not as effective as it once was. Shia Labeouf again is an example of a major star whose popularity lessens not with each choice of film but with each bizarre and boring PR statement he comes out with. Not long ago he not Ryan Gosling could’ve been seen as the definition of this new form of male star but now with newfound seriousness and silly long hair he’s only a few more ‘I do all my own sex stunts’ away from being the new Tom Cruise.

Will Smith is the biggest example of a counter to all this. He still manages to attract huge audiences to films in which he is pretty much the only draw. He’s the only reason anyone would’ve gone to see Seven Pounds and it managed to make $168 million from it’s $58 million budget. Again it’s a testament to his continuing star power that $168 million is considered poor business for a Will Smith film but it’s still almost $100 million more than Drive or The Ides of March pulled at the box office.

Ryan Gosling is the figurehead of this movement, this new generation. Whether he continues to star in interesting and engaging films and do so in a charismatic and down to earth fashion only time will tell. For all I know he could’ve just signed on for The Hangover part III and decided to take up heroin and/or scientology but for now he remains representative of the new male film icon. A normal guy with talent and good sense to boot who has just managed to do rather well in what he loves doing. Hopefully he’ll continue and we can coin the phrase ‘Gosling-esque’.

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