We debut a new column dedicated to the places outside the music industry where song and cinema collide…
Trailer: “Half Nelson” directed by Ryan Fleck, starring Ryan Gosling
In wrestling, the “half nelson” is a hold in which one-player attacks from behind by interlocking their arm with their opponents and then planting a hand firmly on the neck – rendering the other affectively immovable. Or as the beginning of this trailer puts it, “stuck.”
Contrary to popular sentiment, the best trailers actually reveal more than they should, but they just don’t do it blatantly. The opening image of Ryan Gosling struggling to get out of bed while a lazy trumpet sputters out a halfway gorgeous note is a huge clue into the entire story-arc of this film, but the video is paced just right, so that the entire hand is never fully visible and only in retrospect can one put the cards together.
From the massive amount of press clippings that show up in the trailer we know that Ryan Gosling is on fire in this piece, but we can actually see it far before we read the opinion of the NY Times. He checks himself in the rear-view mirror with a cigarette in tow, walking into an elementary school like he was a rock-star. You’d almost think he was a guest speaker, perhaps here to discuss his skyrocketing movie career – and yet that opening image set the mood so perfectly that we can’t help but notice a few imperfections in his stride. His scruffy beard, loosened tie and awkwardly obvious sunglasses all give away the crumbling interior of this man.
But the genius of the trailer is the way in which it counter poses this sense of defeat with the infectious joy that Gosling and Shareeka Epps bring to the screen – the scenes in which the two of them interact are pulsating with chemistry and are the center piece of the entire trailer. It is precisely Gosling’s charm and Epps heart-breaking smile that will draw the most viewers to this film.
The film utilizes music from one of the foremost indie bands today, Broken Social Scene, placing their complex pop tunes in the perfect context. The opening monologue is segued into the action of the trailer by the beginnings of “Shampoo Suicide,” a song that slowly and subtly builds to a thrilling climax, much like the film itself. And it’s no surprise that the director’s chose “Stars and Sons” (both songs are from the album You Forgot it in The People) as the climactic tune of the trailer, echoing the thematic content directly. There are two competing father figures in this young girls life, neither is perfect, but as Gosling explains to his classroom, history is about opposing forces pushing against each other in order to produce change.
The word “change” comes up at least three times in the two minutes of spliced footage we get here, and it’s very telling of what the directors of this trailer have chosen to emphasize in the film. Trailers are not necessarily “previews” of what you will get in the movie, in many ways they are interpretations of said film, often even put together by new and different people than the original work. This trailer works because it chooses its highlights well, instead of revealing the social and historical implications of the actual film, it centers in on the idea of people struggling to “change” in the face of adversity - a very affecting concept and one that we can all understand and emphasize with. But even more than that, this is a focused look at one particular man’s quest for change and the ways in which it touches the one’s around him. The “bridge” of the work, which features a collage of images of Gosling and Epps, is superbly edited (the inclusion of a shot in which Gosling lightheartedly imitates popular dance moves at a school function is a small but particularly precious choice on the director’s part).
Looking at the trailer as a whole it’s clear that Gosling’s character is hoping to help his students adjust to the inequities of society through his teaching, particularly “Ms. Dre,” but his drug habit and lack of confidence hinder his ability. It’s also clear that Dre has as much effect on her teacher as he does on her. The final shot of the two resting on the couch makes this strikingly apparent, contrasting with the first image of Gosling alone in the darkness of his bedroom, here we get two friends glowing in the sunlight of each other’s company. They make an odd couple, but in order to break free from the grip of a half nelson, one needs two combatants. This trailer shows us that the best friends are those that challenge us, and that every human being is a “sinner” striving to be good, a beautiful paradox.