• Reel Reviews
Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson

Broken Social Scene Gives Full Effort in Half Nelson

written by: on December 23, 2011

Half Nelson was an important film for Ryan Gosling, who in 2006 was still paying his dues, and he helped further the film’s own importance in the cinematic canon. While it acted as that ever-important legitimizing and quote-unquote serious film in that precarious post-Notebook moment of his career, it was his all-in performance as a middle school teacher—one who is battling a cocaine addiction while cultivating a close relationship with his 13-year-old female student—that helped form the film’s unique pessimistic-yet-optimistic mood.

That delicate dichotomy of hope and despondency made a substantial impact on the world of independent cinema at the time; critics hailed the film and Gosling’s surprisingly seasoned performance. The film was noticeably subdued, yet frightening in its brutal honesty in painting the disturbing worldview of a drug addict. The distinctive aura of Half Nelson cannot be addressed, however, without bringing up the film’s original score and soundtrack, which is Broken Social Scene through and through.

A band that embraces the art of paradoxes—often combining lusciously approachable melodies with some highly indiscernible lyrics, or perfecting the art of the dirty, fatalistic love song—Broken Social Scene’s daze-inducing collection of You Forgot It in People B-sides, Bee Hives (although mostly featuring YFIIP itself) was indispensable in perfecting Half Nelson. The opening repetition of broken major thirds in “Stars and Sons” graced our first peek into Gosling’s character’s cleaning his cocaine/coffee table, establishing the routine aspect of the act while still highlighting its absurdity. The unmistakable “Lover’s Spit” guided us through the film’s sole and somewhat-off love scene, and the subdued yet satisfying ending came to a perfect close with the languid buildup and sweet percussive release of “Da Da Da Da Da Da.”

Broken Social Scene was in a creative peak at the time of the Half Nelson release, and they were rightfully exposed for it. You Forgot It in People was the mark of the band’s substantial member growth, expanding from a duo project (in Feel Good Lost) to a roughly 15-member experiment. The sweeping orchestral details and experimental depth of the album are largely what garnered its critical acclaim, and if the band’s quiet, chest-thumping drama hadn’t been utilized to the fullest in Half Nelson as it was, it was bound to happen through some film or other.

Whether or not it would have been as effective in another film, however, is a different story. The raw realism and odd beauty of Half Nelson was both enhanced and shaped by the inclusion of Broken Social Scene’s big, one-of-a-kind sound. Don’t get it twisted: A stellar performance is still a stellar performance, but film is particularly difficult in its all-encompassing aspects of production. Without the fullest and most effective sound, pace, look and feel, Gosling’s performance was bound to have been lost. Luckily, the marriage of Half Nelson and Broken Social Scene was nothing less than a spectacular one, and his star power continued to rise.