Sometimes, a movie doesn’t need much more than charisma and great writing. The Nice Guys tackles the less is more comedy approach by effectively telling a small story and pulling an extraordinary amount of entertainment from that concept.
We’re experiencing an era in which comedies are struggling. That isn’t to say there aren’t hilarious movies every year, but the genre’s batting average as a whole is pitiful. More often than not, a newly released comedy just isn’t a very good movie. Dramedies like The Martian fulfill these comedic needs, but still pull from each genre to create a film that doesn’t neatly fit in any one category. The Nice Guys is the rare, pure comedy that can make you laugh and win awards at the same time.
While the laughs themselves aren’t as rolling on the floor as a movie like Trainwreck or really any of Judd Apatow’s finest, the entertainment found throughout The Nice Guys is actually more consistent. The more laugh out loud moments are spaced out, but the beginning to end witty dialogue leaves you in a constant state of chuckle with an occasional outburst.
A True Character-Based Comedy
Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe revive the Buddy Cop subgenre that Kevin Hart is still trying to murder. Their chemistry is Lethal Weapon good. Shane Black’s direction completes the trifecta of why this movie works. I’m still deciding if The Nice Guys is Black’s apology for Iron Man 3, or if this review is my apology for what I’ve said about Iron Man 3. The answer is probably some degree of both. The unique vision that brought some mixed reviews to Tony Stark’s latest solo outing finds a more appropriate home outside of a major franchise. The seedier side of 1970s LA was Black’s sandbox, and he knew exactly how to play in it.
I can neither confirm nor deny that The Nice Guys is an accurate representation of its designated era. But I do know that most movies based around a certain time period tend to turn decades into caricatures of themselves. One day, millennial satires will depict hordes of young adults tweeting while driving or holding selfie sticks while reciting their wedding vows. Similarly, most 70s films end up looking more like an Austin Powers sequel than whatever life was actually like back then.
The decade’s fingerprints are certainly present and visible, but The Nice Guys depicts a subtler yet still signature vibe. I imagine they nailed the portrayal, and can confirm the movie felt as real as it did retro. I also now believe an adult Ryan Gosling was frozen forty years ago, and has been acting one generation ahead of his home time for over a decade. Crowe owns the relatively straight-man comedy and stands tall alongside his costar, but Gosling’s role is more of a scene thief.
To round out the unlikely detective trio, The Nice Guys accomplishes the almost impossible feat of creating a capable child that isn’t annoying. Young characters are typically useless, or simply used as a form of juxtaposition comedy to make the adult characters look stupid. “Get it? It’s funny because the grown ups are dumb but she is smart.” It’s a collection of cheap laughs and easy writing. But Angourie Rice’s performance as Gosling’s daughter is perfect. She holds her own and then some, but not for the purpose of making us laugh at the lead characters.
She simply is her own well-developed character, and fits right in with the gang. I can confidently say she’s going places as an actress, especially if she made any writer friends from this crew.
A Hilarious Murder Mystery
It’s very difficult to describe this film’s brand of comedy. I’m sure similar movies and senses of humor exist, but comparisons wouldn’t do The Nice Guys much justice. As mentioned earlier, the dialogue carries everything. Constant subtle laughs cumulatively add up to a great experience. But more specifically, the film is driven by unconventional storytelling. At face value, The Nice Guys is a murder mystery. And they do a great job creating a legitimately interesting mystery that could function well without the comedy. From that very basic concept, Shane Black and company find unexpected ways to get from point A to point B. The key events don’t stray far from a more serious noir story, but the journey redefines the destination.
The Nice Guys has a heart, one that is explored through small moments and exchanges between the lead characters. But the film never compromises or dips into the realm of dramatic. It’s a pleasant reminder of the idea that a movie can have everything while still identifying with one particular genre. We are cinematically blessed to have so many Golden Globe nominees that can fit in either major category, but it’s also refreshing to occasionally watch one that definitively belongs to one side.
This is likely the truest comedy that may receive any legitimate award buzz, and for that reason I’d love to see it succeed in the Best Comedy category instead of being trampled by some Pearl Harbor movie that has a joke halfway through it. I’m still surprised the HFPA didn’t call The Revenant a comedy for that snowflake scene.
It’s obviously way too early to discuss award potential. I only mean to stress the critical value of a movie that can also be so thoroughly enjoyed by fans. The Nice Guys hasn’t been the most popular release, and could be pigeonholed into the label of a niche comedy. But it is above all else a great and enjoyable comedy, one that is absolutely worth the trip before it leaves theaters.