A wise man recently advised me to never write a profile on someone at the height of their celebrity, “unless you want to write a profile about the state of celebrity.” A similar thing could be said of the press junket: if you try to write something based solely on the happenings of a press junket, you’ll end up with a piece about the state of press junkets.
My editor (hi there) is a smart man (what’s up) and he knows this about the press. So when he suggested I RSVP to the junket for The Place Beyond the Pines, the new macho-sentimental heist drama by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) starring Ryan Gosling (also Blue Valentine, remember?), a press event that would consist of 2 hours of 20 minute roundtable interviews—you and a dozen other journalists with one-star-at-a-time and their publicist in a small, gold-hued room at the Waldorf Astoria—what he had in mind for me to write was not a truth on the making of the movie but something more like this: What It Feels Like For a Girl (To Be in the Same Room as Ryan Gosling).
As asymmetrically handsome as he is in person (just the right height in a nonchalant t-shirt and snug jeans, with that practiced cock of the eyebrow and smile you have to work for), Ryan Gosling—yes, in person, yes, right across from me—did not inspire much feeling in this girl. I was surprised. Gosling, especially under Cianfrance’s direction, is heterosexual female desire embodied. His filmic persona is like, “Hey Girl, my downturned blue-grey eyes do want to penetrate you, respectfully.”
In the movies, Ryan Gosling plays brooding good guys (good even when smashing some guy’s face in in an elevator), the everyday variety of boy-to-man that could be accessible to us regular girls; we swoon. The Place Beyond the Pines has Gosling continuing this tradition, this time accessorized with tattoos and a motorcycle. Cianfrance exploits Gosling’s #1 heartthrob status. The movie opens with a shot of Gosling’s familiar jacked abs, back, and arms; we swoon. Round the table at the Waldorf Astoria, though, the main role Gosling played was that of an actor at the height of his celebrity at a press junket.
He strolled in smooth, with Prince singing out from the speaker on his iPhone, “for us”—for us to get warmed up, for us to have something quirky to write in our review. He gave his sound bites, the obligatory complements to his director and his co-stars. We got the eyebrow, the smile. When I read Dennis Lim’s profile on Gosling, Cianfrance, and The Place Beyond the Pines in The New York Times two days ago, I realized I didn’t have much of a story of my own. Lim interviewed the boys that same day at the Waldorf and all of the clever quotes I’d recorded are printed in Lim’s piece. “I never felt more like Janet Leigh in my life”—Gosling must have said that a dozen times.
We are all performing in a press junket, of course. In my room at the Waldorf, there was Jabba the Journalist in an “Argo October 2012” ballcap playing the role of annoying. There was the chic European woman playing the role of my questions are more like comments that demonstrate how brilliant I am. There was Social Media Guy who kept asking the stars if they, “Twittered and Facebooked.” I was playing baby in the corner at her first big press junket, a.k.a. a fly on the wall at the Waldorf Astoria. Only the geriatric with earlobes the size of my ears interjected less than me. (I’ve always had a thing for earlobes.)
I’ll tell you about state of celebrity press junkets—3 words—rehearsed sycophancy and modesty: ask the women what they’re wearing, ask the actors how they “got into” their roles, try to ask about their personal lives but act respectful when you’re rebuffed. Most press events are organized bullshit. Have you seen the viral video of Mila Kunis interviewed by rookie BBC reporter Chris Stark? Stark opens with the admission that he’s “never done this before” and that he’s “petrified.” He continues on, boyish, flattering Mila’s hotness, asking her out, and talking about his lad friends, one with the unfortunate nickname “Dicko.” At one point, an off-screen publicist interjects with a request that they talk about the movie (Oz the Great and Powerful) and Mila rattles off her practiced soundbites so they can get back to their hilarious banter.
I’ll tell you something about the state of Gosling and Cianfrance’s latest film, too: The Place Beyond the Pines is an ambitious family drama, epic like a Greek tragedy, though aiming at vérité like Cassavetes. It’s a masculine movie about masculinity, about fathers and sons and other homosocial relations. It’s about—a word repeated through the press junket—legacy. The legacy Cianfrance is interested in is both familial (inheritance, biological destiny) and filmic. Screen nerds will enjoy the allusions to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Sidney Lumet’s Serpico, as well as the similarities with Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The film is edited in a bold-for-Hollywood triptych structure and, despite a 140 minute running time, feels like much is missing (I want to see a 160 minute director’s cut). The soundtrack is sometimes supernaturally ominous, sometimes tearful. Place also stars Eva Mendes, whose absence of character accounts for at least fifteen of the twenty minutes I felt were missing, as well as Bradley Cooper, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta, Dane DeHaan, and Emory Cohen.
The only revealing things I learned about The Place Beyond the Pines during the morning of the press junket were as follows: 1) My long-held belief that my lesbian desire is stronger than any desire I have for men—at least, in terms of, like, immediate attraction and objectification—was reinforced by the ultimate litmus test (#1 heartthrob, whatever, but Eva Mendes, hi hi hi hi). 2) Derek Cianfrance, who looks just like Gosling (before meeting Cianfrance, Gosling kept hearing rumours around Hollywood of his “doppelgänger”), said that, when he goes to the movies and sees the “proliferation of perfection” on screen, he often feels, “so lonely at the end.” He leaves like, “Where are the people like me? Where are the people that I know?” And it is that loneliness that he aims to remedy… by putting his doppelgänger into sensational tragic-hero roles. 3) On the subway on my way to the Waldorf—this was Sunday around 8:45am, which was actually/felt like 7:45am, because of daylight savings—two wasted dudes, still drinking brown bagged beers, exchanged stories of their fathers. The guys were tatted up, not unlike Gosling’s Pines characters, and dressed in ’90s rave heritage clothes and hemp. It was as if they started partying in 1995 and never sobered up, their look was so dated; grown up Kids. One confessed to the other: “My pop used to take his shit out on me too. Why I hate cars, man.” The moment echoed beautifully with the father/son storytelling of Pines and set to contrast just how unbelievably epic Cianfrance’s vision is. Those subway waistoids, man, they’re the real deal.
With The Place Beyond the Pines, Derek Cianfrance aims at something “real” but it’s impossible to get past the aura of the man he’s made so desirable, Ryan Gosling. The film is a pleasure as a film about films, about grand American storytelling, just as the press junket is a pleasure for what it is and no more: you get to be in the same room as Ryan Gosling (no pictures, please). But as something that you might see yourself in and be less lonely for, The Place Beyond the Pines, in its press and its 140 minutes, fails. No one I know has abs like that.