Popcorn and chocolate, peanut butter and jelly, bread and butter, Ryan Gosling and Damien Chazelle, some things just go together.
Who Is Damien Chazelle?
This time 5 years ago, barely anyone outside of indie cinema circles knew who Damien Chazelle was.
He had one feature film under his belt, Guy and Madeline On A Park Bench, a film he made as a final year Harvard student.
If you’re reading this and struggling with your FYP’s, watch this scene and get inspiration.
He was months away from premiering Whiplash at Sundance. Had been head-hunted by JJ Abrams to do work on what would eventually become 10 Cloverfield Lane.
Cut to now, and he’s the youngest ever winner of Best Director at the Academy Awards. He has been giving carte blanche by Netflix to make a musical drama series about the Parisian music scene.
The topic of today’s discussion, was given 80 million dollars to tell the story of Neil Armstrong.
The Story of Armstrong
Neil Armstrong’s life seems ripe for Hollywood adaptation.
A rural boy from Ohio becoming the first person to ever walk on the surface of another body that isn’t earth while suffering one personal tragedy after the other?
How is that not a story ripe for a blockbuster?
It’s curious that Hollywood have adapted literary every other famous space mission and a few other fake ones, but never the story of Apollo 11.
Perhaps it was a matter of the right director to come along, and wouldn’t you know it, the wunderkind Chazelle knocks it out of the park again.
The Other Part |Of The Equation Is Ryan Gosling
Much like how the 90’s belonged to Will Smith, the 2000’s belonged to Brad Pitt; the 2010’s have belonged to Ryan Gosling.
Looking at his slate of films from the 2010’s, the only objectively bad one is Gangster Squad, directed by Venom’s Ruben Fleischer.
Even then, it isn’t Ryan Gosling’s fault the movie is terrible, it’s our fault as a society for not identifying Fleischer’s lack of directing talent sooner!
Most people reading this will cop that Chazelle and Gosling worked together on La La Land in 2016, so it would make sense that the duo would reunite.
Much like Lennon and McCartney, they just know how to get the best out of each other.
Chazelle has grown leaps and bounds as a director even since La La Land, experimenting more with first-person perspectives, Battle Of Algiers style handheld shooting, whip pans, all of which serve the film tremendously.
You couldn’t throw those fancy techniques into the middle of Whiplash or La La Land, but it makes perfect sense in a historical drama that’s a dramatic retelling.
The absolute best parts of the movie are when spaceships are involved, which is a ringing seal of endorsement for any space movie.
The camera jolts shakes and rolls around the cramped ship, giving you the sense you’re actually in the thick of it with Armstrong.
It’s incredibly effective film-making and brings to mind the works of a certain Mr. Spielberg, who is an executive producer on this project.
Meanwhile, Gosling absorbs himself into the role of Armstrong so much so that the film starts giving off a documentary feel.
He finds the stoic emotion, the slightly off-kilter vibe that Armstrong had and brings it to the character.
It’s an incredibly subtle thing to pick up on, but Gosling has that knack for being able to meld himself into whoever he wants, be it a synthetic robot cop in Blade Runner, an idiotic detective in The Nice Guys, or a struggling musician in La La Land.
The guy is a chameleon; there’s no question about it.
First Man is based on the 2005 official biography by James Hansen, and it’s amazing how many of the small details that screenwriter Josh Singer managed to lift from the book, such as the fact that Neil wrote a musical in college and set the lyrics to Gilbert and O’Sullivan show tunes.
Claire Foy Is A Key Ingredient
I heartily recommend the book to anyone who wants an exhaustive deep dive into the life of Armstrong.
The emotional heart of the movie and audience surrogate is Claire Foy as Janet, Neil’s wife.
Gosling plays Armstrong so stoically and close to the chest that Foy does most of the dramatic heavy lifting in the household scenes, which is where the film truly shines for me.
She brings rawness to the film that isn’t otherwise present, but more so the personality and ego-driven environment that the film took place in.
The two lead performances are understated, thoughtful, and not at all showy, which is precisely the kind of approach the film needs.
In the pre-Venice festival interview with Hollywood Reporter, Chazelle noted that a handheld camera was used during the household scenes with Gosling and Foy in an attempt to create a sense that what the audience is seeing is the real family, and that some of the footage shot on the camcorder was left in the final film.
It’s that sort of stripped-back approach to film-making that Chazelle has that allows the film to escape its potential trappings as another sappy Oscar favourite to a genuinely great film.
It’s about how the human condition thrives in an unbelievable extra-terrestrial environment and the psychological trails that come with being such a historical trailblazer.
This may disappoint some people who expected Whiplash In Space, but this is just another example of the tremendous talent that Damien Chazelle is.
By Mike Finnerty