Half Nelson (2006) – Film Review

There’s a young guy, Dan (Ryan Gosling),  who is a teacher working in an inner-city school with thirteen-year-olds by day, but by night he parties. Drinking lots, drugs, ladies; the whole lot. Somehow, he is just scraping through the days, hung-over and dishevelled. One day he has a visit from his ex-girlfriend and his life spirals rapidly. Then there’s Drey (Shareeka Epps), one of Dan’s students, who lives with her mum who does shift work. Her brother is in prison for dealing drugs and her father regularly forgets to pick her up from school and is not seen throughout the film. Drey’s brother’s best mate starts to befriend her, but she is suspicious of his motivations. When Drey stumbles across the double life that Dan is living, they start to rely on each other.

This another clear example of a sadtacular film. It’s fabulous but awful all at the same time. Every step that Dan takes is wrong; from avoiding the set school curriculum to teach his own brand of modern American history(particularly in relation to civil rights), to taking drugs in school and giving young students a lift home. It was annoying – I felt like yelling at the screen – but because the character is so well depicted by Ryan Gosling, it felt totally within character. But the ending was totally annoying – one particularly bad decision led to both Drey and Dan making the decision to turn their lives around. But it just didn’t feel real. The changed of attitude seemed forced, and then end was unsatisfying. Like Precious, which I watched around the same time, the film ended before the story ended. Having a shave and sitting on the couch was clearly supposed to represent the new life, but again, all I could see was a hopeless future of further struggle and failure.

Half Nelson was nominated for an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Ryan Gosling)