Ryan Gosling Enters a Creative Peak

In Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 love drama Blue Valentine, Ryan Gosling plays a husband and father named Dean who seems to annoy his wife Cindy, a busy nurse. She rushes to get their young daughter out the door for school, even as Dean enjoys being the fun dad and turns breakfast into a game by spreading raisins from his daughter’s oatmeal around the table for them to eat like jungle animals. In a flashback, a younger Dean is shown carefully unpacking the belongings of a frail elderly man who has just been placed in a nursing home in his previous job as a mover, aware of the memories attached to each item. Many talented actors like Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, and Paul Newman have cited Marlon Brando as an inspiration, but Gosling may be Brando’s true heir in his ability to portray subtle, fleeting gestures and expressions that deeply impact viewers. The effort he puts into his roles is almost invisible but deeply felt.

Now 43, Gosling was around 30 when he made Blue Valentine. That came about six years after his breakthrough in the romantic drama The Notebook and four years after earning an Oscar nomination for his disarming performance as a troubled junior high school teacher in Half Nelson. He would later play a daredevil motorcyclist in The Place Beyond the Pines, astronaut Neil Armstrong in First Man, and an LAPD officer in a Blade Runner sequel. His next announced project is Project Hail Mary, a space drama directed by . But for now, Gosling is enjoying new success with two lighter yet meaningful roles that may mark the start of a golden era. Charm is rare in 2024, when most people are exhausted making ends meet or stressed by world problems, but Gosling makes acting look fun.

In his new movie The Fall Guy, Gosling plays Colt Seavers, a swaggering stuntman who breaks his back during a routine maneuver. Earlier, he had flirted with camera operator Jody Moreno, played by Emily Blunt, fantasizing about getting away together on a beach drinking margaritas and “making bad decisions,” borrowing her British word for swimsuit. Next he’s rushed away on a stretcher; after a long recovery, he loses his confidence and ghosts Jody. Now she’s directing her first sci-fi blockbuster in Australia and has requested his stunt skills—or so he’s been led to believe. When he arrives, she wants nothing to do with him. Winning her back involves locating the movie’s missing star, Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

Directed by longtime stunt performer David Leitch, The Fall Guy is about a guy with everything to prove, starring a guy with nothing to prove. After completing First Man, Gosling took a break from movies to spend time with his young family, which includes his wife Eva Mendes. He reemerged in 2022 with The Gray Man, a Netflix action movie disliked by many. Promo photos for Greta Gerwig’s Barbie shocked viewers with Gosling’s platinum hair and bare chest in a jean vest. He looked ridiculous but amazing. And his single “I’m Just Ken” with its pink sparkling suit, showed secure masculinity—turning what could have been a square event into something people enjoyed watching.

Gosling, for now, seems incapable of failure, but those who have always loved him are unsurprised and unworried. The truth is that we need Ryan Gosling more than he needs us. On April 13 he hosted Saturday Night Live for the third time, and the week before confessed nerves to Jimmy Fallon, fearing he might crack up during a sketch. A few days later, he did just that during an alien abduction sketch, losing composure when Kate McKinnon mimed their fascination with his “troll nose.” Seeing a movie star genuinely laugh makes viewers happy. Within a week it became the most-streamed SNL episode on Peacock. How could we not be glad to see him, to glimpse stars as real people? It’s a rare pleasure.

Gosling’s character in The Fall Guy, on the other hand, is nothing like a normal person. He’s a professional paid to be set on fire, drive wrecked cars, and surf on speeding trucks while chopping the air with karate moves. The movie celebrates all the stunt performers, and ostensibly women too though none are obvious, who risk injury to make films look real. (Gosling performs some stunts and was terrified of a 12-story building drop.) The Fall Guy leaves viewers “stunt drunk” with so much action. It’s also very fun.

And while Gosling has starred in comedies before like 2016’s The Nice Guys with Russell Crowe, now recognized as a work of genius, The Fall Guy is his first true romantic comedy lead—though not a typical one given its obsession with dangerous stunts.

But no one could ask for more than the chemistry between Blunt, a brilliant comic, and Gosling, who opens a portal for her wit instead of just reacting. This generosity makes great comedy. When Colt looks at Jody, even angrily forcing him to redo a challenging flaming stunt, his affection pours out—like instinctively adjusting her big hat so it’s snug under her chin, annoying yet endearing her. We now live saturated with entertainment, but nothing about Gosling as actor or star feels false. He offers pleasure instead.