Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is an ex-LAPD detective with a young daughter struggling to get by as a slightly glorified ambulance chaser. The somewhat mysterious Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is an unregistered fixer with a disarming smile that masks an aggressive professional style. The two men “meet cute” over Amelia; a young woman March has been stalking for a client. She’s hired Healy to dissuade him from his pursuit and after the requisite banter he breaks the gumshoe’s arm. Is this the start of a beautiful relationship?
Although unshielded, The Nice Guys are the newest crew of the buddy cop genre that spawned 48 Hrs., Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys and more recently,Ride Along. They are bigger goofballs than their antecedents and, regrettably, lack the requisite charm to divert attention away from a muddy narrative that involves nefarious shenanigans linking the automobile and porn industries.
Apart from his off-screen antics and past notoriety for wild parties, writer-director Shane Black has long been associated with writing such high-concept thrillers as the Lethal Weapon series to The Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight. His earlier directing effort Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was like his current film a send-up of films noir. And as with so many attempts to have it both ways, it fails to deliver on either count.
The film opens with a spectacular car crash through a Hollywood Hills home with the driver, a noted adult film star, expiring on the cliffside. It’s an attention-grabber, and Black and co-scripter Anthony Bagarozzi have a weakness for spectacle over substance. March has been hired by the late actress’s aunt who believes she’s still alive. From there the story meanders along in search of linkage with the two rivals joining forces to resolve the mystery. Needless to say it has something to do with bribery of government officials, blackmail involving a risqué movie and a lot of gunfire and fisticuffs.
For all the wrong reasons, it evokes The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman’s Raymond Chandler adaptation written by Leigh Brackett. Coincidently, or not, Altman’s film was made in 1977 and The Nice Guys is set in that year. But the earlier film wandered with intent; never losing site of who Philip Marlowe was as a person and what he was pursuing with the seeming asides along his route eventually providing a cohesion in resolving an enigmatic tale.
The new film’s diversions are less edifying. There’s a disconnect between Gosling and Crowe’s portrait of working stiffs every time they respond with a clever retort. It’s somewhat mitigated in the former case by the presence of Holly (Angourie Rice), his precocious, whip-smart 12-year old daughter.
Apart from the fact that Crowe has ballooned to a size close to that of John Goodman, the actor comes off as uncomfortable with his character as well as his wardrobe. Gosling, conversely, dives into the deep end and while evincing an unnatural stroke nonetheless swims in these perilous waters. Nonetheless his interplay with his partner is truly flat footed.
The one true shining element is Rice who has the nascent talent of the likes of Dakota Fanning or Natalie Portman at the start. While there’s nothing particular novel of the child who’s smarter with better survival instincts than the adults, she invests her role with a vulnerability that avoids the pitfall of a cloying assurance. In this instance Nice Guys truly finish last
Maggie’s Plan is to find a suitable donor and have a child. The college professor in her thirites wants no emotional involvement in the mix, just a means to an end before her time runs out. But things don’t work out as planned.
There’s a giddy quality to Rebecca Miller’s comic perspective of contemporary mores that is at turns refreshing, annoying and comforting. The Manhattan setting inescapably recalls the angst of a Woody Allen scenario. Nonetheless it’s a distaff viewpoint with a more optimistic slant that may be cockeyed but remains valid in context.
Maggie (Greta Gerwig), who teaches at the New School, has lined up a former classmate _ a very masculine Nordic drop out with an upstart pickle company _ as her sperm donor. But a chance meeting with John (Ethan Hawke), teaching a possibly invented anthropologic course, leads to a head-over-heels involvement. They do it the old-fashioned way.
John happens to be married with two young children. His wife Georgette (Julianne Moore) is a noted academic who doesn’t meet his emotional needs. He wants to write a novel and Maggie agrees to read his first chapter. She gives a five star review and that sets the wheels in motion.
Three years later, Maggie and John and darling Lily appear to be the picture of domestic bliss. However there is the nagging fact that he is no closer to completing his novel. The things that made him so open and appealing have been replaced by a self absorption that allows him to brilliantly rationalize his predicament. It’s smart folk’s tsoris.
So, there is a Maggie’s plan 2. In our heroine’s mind she evolves this idea that things would be so much better if John would get back together with Georgette. Again, one has to accept that being bright may not be enough. IQ is not an excuse for developed passive aggressive defenses that ward off being direct about everyday domestic issues.
Maggie is on the one hand eternally positive and on the other averse to any form of confrontation. She will run the marathon to avoid crossing the street. John on the other hand is the perpetual pampered juvenile. Early praise has built up a protective wall impervious to criticism or self awareness.
Georgette is the most complex of the trio. She knows she’s the smartest person in the room and has no compunction about telling others what to do and how to act. Her frosty authoritative exterior masks a crippling insecurity and overpowering fear that someone will manipulate her basic vulnerability.
The film marks a dramatic turn in Miller’s work that has veered toward a darker view of humanity. Despite its obvious humor, Maggie’s Plan is a more nuanced and accessible yarn. In the case of Gerwig and Hawke she’s taken actors with familiar personalities and played on those personas while Moore is allowed to challenge and heighten perceptions and serve as the spoiler to those expectations.
Maggie’s Plan is messy like the lives Miller’s observing and one suspects her intention was sometimes thwarted by emotions that refused to be suppressed.