The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys

I don't feel like I did a great job on the podcast explaining why The Nice Guys is my least favorite type of movie. I don't mean its genres: 70s, mystery, buddy cop, suspense (all good). I'm talking about films that have a deeply misanthropic worldview yet try to offer some unearned sliver of optimism in its ending despite making everything a gross joke up until that point.

There's a world in which The Nice Guys' consistent use of shooting innocent bystanders is a joke on movie expectations, how often viewers are indifferent to ancillary death and destruction, how they need to be taught to care about violence in a movie by creating a character as opposed to it being intrinsic (like it is with most viewers concerning animals). But this isn't that joke, and this isn't that film. These are jokes that feel like a prank on the viewer, where I feel forced to laugh at ugliness for no coherent reason simply through this film's aesthetics and set up. Most egregious is the "tree man" at the sex worker party who is shot during Russell Crowe and Keith David's fight and performs wacky silent comedy style acting as he falls (and one assumes...dies). I feel in this moment (and in some others) that a laugh is being forcibly torn from me. This movie is mean and not in a Chinatown way (or even Chinatown lite: L.A. Confidential way, which it is obviously doffing its cap to) that is about the inescapable entropy and dumbness of the world but rather mean specifically to its audience. I feel like a worse person through the mere act of watching it.

If the film had steered into this gross misanthropy, I still wouldn't have liked it, but I would have respected it. It sees the world as muck, and it wants to drag me down with it. But the film's totally unearned ray of hope is maybe the worst I've seen since Saving Private Ryan, which at least in my opinion is slightly redeemed by feeling more like Spielberg freaking out about facing true darkness and trying to comfort himself as opposed to The Nice Guys, which feels like that lovable combination of poor writing and audience manipulation. This is Hollie (Angourie Rice), Holland March's (Ryan Gosling) daughter, whose sweet(ish) naivete is supposed to be charming and redemptive. It's not. If she were an adult romantic interest, her character would likely be (correctly) denigrated as "quirky" but the faults in writing her are overlooked because she is a child and because she offers (most) audience members exactly what they're wanting to leave a movie like this with, hope. But can a film that makes me laugh at (innocent) death really hinge its morality on getting its central characters to care about (not so innocent) death. If so, this film is asking me to champion growth in its characters that it never allows me as the viewer to have. I'm still supposed to laugh at this film's brutality, which never offers the cartoonish qualities of Quentin Tarantino's best work, to make said violence more palatable. Instead it deals in the same style as the Mission Impossible series and The Raid films with painfully realistic bodily destruction accompanied by gross and exaggerative sound effects to make those moments crunch more and turn more stomachs. The film even makes sure to deliver one final laugh about its own violence (shown in the trailer, so not really a spoiler) when March says, "Look at the bright side, nobody got hurt."

And Russell Crowe's Jackson Healy responds, "People got hurt."

To which March says, "I think that they died quickly though, so I don't think that they got hurt."

And the joke sadly doesn't feel as on us or on March as it needs to be in this moment. On how we can look past violence so easily. It further undercuts the change in the film that we're supposed to believe in at that point. That they might be better people than they started the film as.

Most of what this film is is summed up in its first few moments when a young boy snags his father's porno mag only to have the centerfold crash (half naked) through his house and die in his backyard where he covers her exposed breasts. The irony of the moment undercuts any sadness or sympathy we might have for the woman or the possibility of drawing the smart and reasonable conclusion that it's much easier to objectify someone who isn't right in front of us. Rather the moment plays as both an anti-sex and upsettingly paternalistic moment where a young boy even realizes that sex for money is bad and gives this woman some "dignity" even in death. It's too bad that my consistent enjoyment of Hannibal Buress and having seen a movie that barely constitutes a movie keeps this from being 2016's worst film. It deserves it.

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