Half Nelson ★★★★

Watched as part of the August 2017 Letterboxd Scavenger Hunt
My list | Christian Alec's master list
#26: Watch a film about a teacher

2017 movie viewings, #107. This is a movie I've had a low-key interest in seeing since it first came out in 2006; and like I've said before, this to me is the number-one benefit of the scavenger hunts here at Letterboxd, that they give me an excuse to finally watch those thousands of movies in my unending "low-key interest" list. One of the first films to generate Ryan Gosling a lot of attention (he received a surprise Best Actor Oscar nomination for it), this is very thoroughly a slow-moving character study but with a fascinating premise -- he plays a young white intellectual who's taken a job as a popular and challenging teacher at an all-black inner-city high school, but unlike most movies that follow this trope, Gosling's Dan Dunne is a personal trainwreck, a secret crack addict who can't hold a job or a girlfriend longer than a few months without engaging in some kind of self-destructive behavior that ruins them both.

The movie itself, then, is a deep and quiet look at Dunne's life, as he randomly ends up at the first job he's ever held that he's actually good at, all of us following along to see if this alone will be enough for him to finally get his shit together; mild spoiler alert, it isn't, and this movie's infamously depressing ending is one of the big reasons Gosling got an Oscar nomination in the first place, for a no-budget indie by an unknown director that came and went from theaters with barely anyone noticing. (It made $53,000 its opening weekend, if this gives you an idea of what we're talking about.) It's because of these things that I call the movie only okay but not great, which like the dramas of David Gordon Green is just too slow and too subtle for me in particular to really get into; but don't let that stop you from actually watching it, because those with a higher tolerance than me for slow-moving character studies will absolutely love this, exactly what anyone would want from a Sundance-style character-based indie. Glad to finally get this one off my "to watch someday" list, even though I found the movie itself only okay.

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