There was a Twitter meme floating around yesterday about hot takes on movies. My hot take is that Drive, from 2011, the critical darling, loudly praised as a masterpiece, is hot garbage. A garbage fire. An “ephemeric splash of blue/orange/Gosling colored sewage” I replied to Andrew Bloom when he asked for some slack cut because of Albert Brooks’ presence. I’m going to try and explain precisely why I hate that movie so much, but please forgive me because I’m going off my memory of one viewing and a plot summary from wikipedia.
The long and short of it is style over substance, but I think even that understates it, because the style in and of itself is borrowed from a dozen other films. The Driver, a man with no name (do you get it, remember, Clint Eastwood, right?), played by Ryan Gosling is ostensibly our protagonist, but I don’t know why I’m supposed to like him, or even find him compelling. He’s handsome, he has a mysterious past, he wears a cool jacket. That’s all we get, and when he meets the new neighbor, his love interest for the movie, she knows even less about him. She likes him, as far I can tell, but it seems to be because they glance at each other a lot. If this was a set-up for a relationship in a romantic comedy, it would have been thrashed, but because it’s a neo-crime-thriller or whatever nonsense genre people want to ascribe to it, it’s suddenly permissible?
Love Interest also has a husband in prison, and everything devolves into chaos and crime where we finally see The Driver unleash his ultraviolence on some dudes. I guess this is when we’re supposed to feel shocked and stunned, much like Love Interest, but showing a man willing to commit crime is not interesting to me. Mysterious handsome silent white guy who dispenses murder is a thing I’ve seen before many times, and having it over synth pop does not distinguish it to me. “There’s neon!” cries the critics, and I reply “Yes, I remember the 80’s as well.” Why do I care about any of these people? Why do I care that The Driver is relapsing in violence? Because he’s pretty and he’s nice to his neighbor’s kid? At the end of the day, it felt like I was supposed to care because about these characters because of memories I have of other characters like them, from other movies. Yes, archetypes are an essential part of film vocabulary, but this archetype is the most boring, most used. Making it “arty” doesn’t suddenly make it interesting to me.
The movie looks really nice. It is the most blue and orange thing I can remember. It’s well shot, and I like the soundtrack. The actors are good-to-great, but I couldn’t even remember that Ron Perlman’s character was named Nino, when one of my best friends from college also had that relatively unique name. Every character is a trope from an older and better movie. I don’t care about any of them. It’s critique that I also have of the recent Netflix series Stranger Things (although I actually enjoyed Stranger Things). Arranging tropes I like in a slightly new and different way does not make something good.
This movie is nothing. It is tissue paper painted neon with synth pop playing around it. It is fifty films collaged together into an illusion.
The night I saw Drive my then-girlfriend and now-wife and I considered walking out, but because we were with a group, we stayed. I consider it a hallmark of our compatibility.