As accounts of movie-flops-in-the-making go, “My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn” is a pretty tame affair. The stakes are low. Nobody died or divorced, nobody’s career ended.
The director of “Drive” only loses his temper when he has to admit, upon finishing it, that he’s wasted years of his life making “Only God Forgives.” But his documentary filmmaker wife’s camera captures hints that he knows the film is a bad idea much earlier, maybe in pre-production.
Lacking the deadly splendor of on-set accidents, casting bungles and money-devouring madness that documentary makers captured while “Apocalypse Now” (“Hearts of Darkness “) and “Fitzcarraldo” (“Burden of Dreams”) were unfolding, “My Life” plays as more intimate. And dull.
“Only God Forgives,” named by readers of the Village Voice as “the worst film of 2013,” polarized critics and scared off audiences. But Refn simply frets on camera about “not repeating myself.”
He turns to fabled filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, most famous for a movie he was not allowed to make (“Dune”), for advice.
“Why are you working for ‘success?'” Jodorowsky wants to know. “You need to have the pleasure to do it!”
Movies are cumbersome, expensive ocean liners that you cannot stop on a dime, even if you know they’re half-baked. So they’re off to Bangkok– family in tow — to shoot this thriller about a drug smuggler, played by Ryan Gosling when Luke Evans had to drop out (not depicted), who is coerced into finding and punishing his brother’s killer by their Lady Macbeth Mom (Kristin Scott Thomas).
Gosling is always a good sport, standing up for his “Drive” director with just a knowing smirk, in or out of gory makeup. He dotes on their children, and only once allows himself to be sarcastic at some misguided compliment.
“What’s THAT supposed to mean?”
“Make it dirty, unique, interesting, never seen before,” Refn, the son of Danish filmmakers tells his fight choreographer. “And VIOLENT.”
We see a little of that violence, with Scott Thomas asking her director, “So you’ll kill me and disembowel me tomorrow?” They do.
We see Refn rethink a complicated motorcycle shootout on the fly, and we watch him hold his temper as his wife keeps filming him as he tries to unwind or figure out a way out of this fix.
Liv Corfixen, a pretty blond captured in several scenes, asking questions off camera in others, follows her husband all the way to Cannes, long past the point Refn shouts “I think it’s a BAD film” at her.” She even shows him reading the nastiest reviews.
“Why do they have to be so mean?”
“In a way,” she answers, off camera, “you asked for it.”
Perhaps he did. But that’s not really compelling enough to warrant a documentary.
MPAA Rating: unrated, some profanity
Cast: Nicolas Winding Refn, Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas
Credits: Directed by Liv Corfixen. A Radius/TWC release.
Running time: 1:01