A big part of romance is courtship. In the movie The Nice Guys (2016), there’s no time for that. They cut right to the chase – literally. It’s not love at first sight; in fact, their first meeting is rather rough.
What brings them together is a beautiful young woman, but not for the reasons you’d imagine. What keeps them together long enough for love is a little girl (Angourie Rice). To me, she’s the coolest little sidekick since Natalie Portman played Mathilda in Léon: The Professional (1994).
Most of the time in action blockbusters, sex or at least its suggestion is obligatory, along with shots, explosions or car chases, and often all of the above. I wouldn’t have anything against that if the formula hadn’t become so trite.
The macho man with a soft heart finally meets his match. She appears tough and independent, but when the situation gets hard and shots get fired, she falls into his arms. Then, there’s the obligatory kiss at the end, when they’re covered in blood, soot and sweat.
Not with The Nice Guys. Its director and co-writer is Shane Black, writer of the first Lethal Weapon (1987) – so someone seasoned in combining bromance, action and humor. Taking place in 1977 Los Angeles, Black’s 2016 movie has all the action elements and its fair share of humor. But the only suggestion of sex is the porn industry, largely as an abstract plot device (though you do see some illustrative bare flesh).
The bromance, and its third element – the little girl – is the core relationship in the movie.
As the plot goes, the beautiful young Amelia (Margaret Qualley) has been involved in the making of a porn flick, and now almost everyone seems to want her dead. Except for the two “nice guys,” Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling). Oh, and of course, March’s lovely daughter Holly, the pivotal, tough-as-nails little girl. (Not so little, though – she’s 13 and more mature than most 30-year-olds these days.) It’s up to the three of them to chase after Amelia, find her and protect her.
March tries to keep Holly out of the action. But she manages to sneak, claw and almost shoot her way in. It turns out the two men need her more than they could imagine. She’s quite bright, brave and stubborn, to say the least.
In my opinion, the Amelia factor is the movie’s weak spot. There’s not enough character development, or development of the story around her. She’s basically a prop. I spent much of the movie without any idea who Amelia really was or why so many people wanted to find her, and often kill her. The clues – the use of porn to get attention, hippie protests against air pollution, the explosive foreshadowing at the beginning – only made sense to me towards the end of the movie. Some questions remained unanswered still then, and not in an “oh-what-a-cerebral-foreign-film” sort of way.
I’d want the movie to still maintain a sense of mystery, but it would also have been nice to be able to care what happened to Amelia. Instead, I think the movie could’ve done without her.
What makes the “nice guys” nice
The lack of any romance between a man and a woman in The Nice Guys was quite refreshing to me. So was the brotherly love growing between two men you’d think wouldn’t get along.
On one hand is Healy, a washed up action hero type, teeming with testosterone while having a very soft spot for children. On the other is March who, like Healy, is a private investigator who barely gets by, getting only minor assignments. Unlike Healy, though, March can barely tie his shoes, much less break into a house without bursting his wrist open. But he can be sharp when he manages to not pick up the bottle long enough, and may have an inordinate amount of luck even when he doesn’t manage. He and his daughter are dealing with the grief of losing her mother, his wife, in a house fire.
The two of them meet when Healy barges into March’s home and rough-handles him, breaking his arm. It’s all somehow related to Amelia, and ends up with Healy hiring March because of someone else also looking for Amelia. Meanwhile, the aunt of a dead porn actress (Murielle Telio) connected to Amelia is convinced she saw her niece alive, and has also hired March. (He should have listened to her sooner, perhaps, instead of dismissing her and just taking her money.) We find out Amelia is the daughter of someone important you may have seen in another L.A.-related movie. I found character development also to be poor in that case.
The only multi-dimensional lives in The Nice Guys are that of Healy, March and Holly. I found they worked out well together as characters (and actors), that they complemented each other. It was quite heart-warming to see how much the two men cared about Holly, and at the same time treated her as an intelligent being rather than a silly child. In my view, she served as the glue in their relationship, and the savior in their first big case, at least in a while. (They couldn’t have known how big and potentially game-changing it would be.)
I hope the young actress doesn’t grow up to become an action bimbo; it would be a waste of talent.