Here are some facts about Ryan Thomas Gosling:
- He was an accomplished child actor, a cast member of the early-’90s iteration of The Mickey Mouse Club, which also kicked off the careers of performers like Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Keri Russell.
- He is from Canada and probably has opinions about the proper way to store milk.
- One time he started a spooky band with Zach Shields called Dead Man’s Bones. It’s my favorite bit of Gosling trivia. Listen to their album, it’s great.
- He is extremely goddamn funny.
That last point is now at the forefront of everyone’s minds, thanks to the colossal success of Barbie, where Gosling’s uproarious, doe-eyed portrayal of Ken virtually steals the show. For a long time, however, this felt like a hidden talent of Gosling’s, a thing he was very capable of but rarely asked to do. An impossibly handsome man, Gosling is most famous as a lead in films like The Notebook, Drive, La La Land, and Blade Runner 2049, films that put his face on a poster and invite you to join him on a journey to somewhere impossibly romantic and/or cool.
In between, however, were comedies where Gosling really stole the show, usually as part of an ensemble or opposite another talented presence. Movies like Crazy, Stupid, Love, where his effortless cool is contrasted with Steve Carell’s divorcé awkwardness, or The Big Short, which weaponizes his charms to portray a slimy bond salesman, a smarmy bright spot in a film that trafficked in nonstop smarm.
Barbie is notable because it’s one of the few times Gosling has taken on a bona fide lead role in a comedy. The two previous examples are Shane Black’s excellent comedy-noir The Nice Guys, and the sweet indie Lars and the Real Girl, about a nice man’s romantic relationship with a sex doll and the small town that he eventually finds community in.
The Nice Guys, an excellent staple of Netflix’s library, might be Gosling’s funniest role. As hapless private eye and single father Holland March, Gosling plays a man hired to find a missing porn star. He soon finds himself hopelessly over his head and entangled with bruiser Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), his reluctant partner on the case. The Nice Guys sees Gosling operating in a wide range of modes — in one scene, he’s Lou Costello, in another, he’s Elliott Gould by way of Robert Downey Jr. Later, he’s Buster Keaton. It’s wonderful.
Lars and the Real Girl demonstrates what makes Gosling such a gifted comedic performer, and it’s also the reason he’s good in all of his roles: It’s his sincerity. Lars is a film that could easily trade in cheap jokes and crude humor, but it finds a way to consistently focus on genuine emotion and warmth instead, while also never becoming overly saccharine. This is Gosling’s superpower: His characters believe in things so purely and completely, with a conviction so palpable you can almost see it spilling out of his eyes.
This is what Ken has in common with the Driver, with Blade Runner 2049’s K, with his version of Neil Armstrong in Damien Chazelle’s First Man, with Dean Pereira in Blue Valentine or Sebastian in La La Land. That overwhelming belief makes his comedies funnier and his dramas more wrenching; it’s why even his more confounding action films, like Only God Forgives, still manage to feel strangely soulful. Cinema is make-believe, and Ryan Gosling is one of its biggest believers.