Slapstick With a 1977 Edge: The Nice Guys

By Lydia Geisel

To cope with my fear of flying on a trip this past fall, I took a chance on Shane Black’s newest film, The Nice Guys. Regardless of mixed reviews and not receiving an Oscar nomination this year, this goofy mystery-thriller starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe was one of my favorite films of the year.

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Still from The Nice Guys, 2016.

First at odds, Crowe and Gosling, who both play private detectives in L.A. during the 1970s, are forced to pair up to find a runaway girl who is hiding from a group of thugs looking to kill her for trying to expose the government for covering up harmful gas emissions. The film is packed with gunplay, excessive drinking, and odd ball characters, like Holland’s (played by Ryan Gosling) young daughter Holly—a fair mix of precocious and clumsy—who is inspired to help solve the mystery.

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Still from The Nice Guys, 2016.

With witty dialogue, obvious comic violence, and characters named John Boy and Older Guy The Nice Guys seems to have been partly influenced by the rules of slapstick comedy, as A.O. Scott notes in this article for The New York Times (which also includes a really great clip of Director Shane Black outlining his thinking behind the scenes). While renewed with an inventive 1970’s attitude, Black’s film bares the foundations of slapstick comedy in almost every scene.

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Still from The Nice Guys, 2016.

For example, toward the end of the movie, Holly finds herself trapped by a villain and attempts to throw a pot of hot coffee at the thug…but, the pot turns out to be cold. Often, when the characters try to pull off something cool or brave, things go miserably awry. I think that this  attention to oddball comedy, in combination with a strong script and nostalgic sets, makes this movie a must-see for Chaplin fans and those alike.  

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9 Responses to Slapstick With a 1977 Edge: The Nice Guys

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I really loved this movie when I saw it in theaters – it definitely did a nice job of juxtaposing comedy and violence, and played off the drama of 70s detective shows. Your examples are spot-on and highlight the conventions of slapstick.

    -Meg Schmit

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I’ve never seen “The Nice Guys,” but I remember hearing good things about the film. I don’t usually love slapstick comedies, but this one did catch my eye- maybe it was because of Ryan Gosling. After reading your review, as well as “The New York Times” article, the film sounds well written, something I don’t always find in slapstick comedies. I also really like the time period it’s set in. I’ll definitely have to check it out. -Caitlin Herlihy

  3. I love a good comedy, and this sounds like a fun watch. I think comedies are a bit underrated these days compared to their ‘socially and artistically profound’ counterparts. Who doesn’t love good entertainment and laughter though? You should check out “Brigsby Bear” starring (and co-written by) Kyle Mooney. It was just at Sundance and I think was sold to Sony. It’s a great comedy, and also touching.

  4. mediaphiles says:

    The Nice Guys is one of my favorites of last year, too. Shane Black has really found his niche in the buddy cop genre. This film does a great job of subverting the action genre with comedy and the acting and chemistry on screen from these actors is superb. I’d love to see Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe get back at it in another film.

    – Cal Parsons

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I loved this film! I really hope more people see it despite the mixed reviews it received because it really is a hilarious and well made film. Your description of the blend of comedy and action was very good. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe have great chemistry, but I think Angourie Rice, who plays Holly, was really great too and steals a lot of the scenes she’s in. This is a great film to check out if you haven’t seen it.

    -Walker Rise

  6. mediaphiles says:

    This film was incredible. I also really loved it and am shocked it wasn’t nominated now that I think of it. the fact that Suicide Squad was nominated for costume and design but this film wasn’t is beyond me. This film is hilarious, thrilling, and shot very well.

    At least Ryan Gosling will have a good year despite this film falling under the radar.

    Russell Lawrence

  7. mediaphiles says:

    Lydia, I had an opportunity to watch this film over the winter break and I could not believe that it did not receive Oscar nods! I absolutely loved it! Not only was the acting phenomenal, but the cinematography was eye-catching! I also have a love for Ryan Gosling’s performances, and he was absolutely hysterical here (such as when he fell off of the back of the house).

    -Luke Dellorso

  8. mediaphiles says:

    I didn’t realize this movie was so good. At first I questioned the comedic abilities of Russell Crowe, but now it seems after reading this that I may truly enjoy this film. I definitely will watch it soon.

    -Jordan Hansgen

  9. mediaphiles says:

    I remember seeing the trailer for this film when it was coming out and wanting to see it. From this description and the relation to Chaplin, I’m even more keen to watch it. I love when films revert back to older styles of comedy and acting styles. Looking forward to actually seeing this film.

    Michael Cyphers

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