One Of Ryan Gosling's Best Films On Rotten Tomatoes Is One Of His Least-Seen

"The Fall Guy" might have kicked off the summer box office season in disappointing fashion, but there's no doubt Ryan Gosling's latest outing is a spectacular time at the movies. Regardless of the film's commercial performance, Gosling and his co-star, Emily Blunt, delivered on the chemistry and charisma, making for a positive critical response that the pair, and director David Leitch, can be proud of.

But then, Gosling never really fails to bring the charisma. On his journey from child actor to movie star, his wry charm has never wavered. Now, his role as Ken in 2023's mega-hit "Barbie" has seemingly endeared him to a whole new generation, culminating in his standout performance of "I'm Just Ken" at the 2024 Oscars. But it's arguably when balancing his playful, roguish side with his more serious dramatic sensibilities that Gosling is at his best.

Fans of the actor might well cite his more muted performance in "Drive" as a career highlight. His portrayal of the taciturn driver in Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 action drama also has a lot in common with his somber turn as K in Denis Villeneuve's excellent 2017 effort "Blade Runner 2049." Both are fine examples of Gosling's work, and excellent case studies of a more tastefully restrained performance from the man. But neither represent that fine balancing act I alluded to earlier, whereby the now-43-year-old somehow manages to project his droll charm while simultaneously conveying an affecting sincerity. No, the quintessential example of this came with what is, in my opinion, his best film: 2006's "Half Nelson" — and Rotten Tomatoes almost agrees with me.

Half Nelson is an under-seen gem

In "Half Nelson," a 26-year-old Ryan Gosling plays Dan Dunne, a middle school teacher who clearly has a gift for connecting with his students but whose life is falling apart outside the classroom. After what was an extremely tough breakup for Dunne, he fell into drug use and spends most of his free time either scoring increasingly serious substances, languishing in his bare-bones Brooklyn apartment, or slipping into a drug-induced stupor. After he's discovered in the midst of one such stupor by his own student, Drey (Shareeka Epps), he and the youngster form a bond that has the potential to help bring Dunne out of his addiction.

Throughout "Half Nelson," Gosling uses his effortless charisma in a more subtle way than we're used to, helping tell a truly affecting story about substance addiction and the connections human beings can form across social and cultural boundaries. When Dunne is interacting with his students, or on a date, he's coolly beguiling. When he's in the depths of his loneliness, he's palpably tortured. All of it is believable.

But Gosling isn't the only reason to see "Half Nelson." Shareeka Epps is outstanding as Drey, especially considering this was her first film role and she was just 16 at the time of filming. Since "Half Nelson" we haven't seen much of Epps — though she has appeared in odd roles here and there. But that's truly a shame, because her performance here is so elegantly composed that it's genuinely unbelievable that this was her first major role in film or TV.

With all this in mind, despite the fact that you don't hear "Half Nelson" mentioned much, it's nice to see the film ranked as Gosling's second-best movie of all time on Rotten Tomatoes.

Rotten Tomatoes says Half Nelson is Gosling's second-best

If you check Rotten Tomatoes, you'll see that "Drive" is, indeed, ranked as Ryan Gosling's best film, with a 93% critic score and a 79% audience score. But right behind that is "Half Nelson" which has a 91% critic score and actually managed to beat out "Drive" with its 82% audience score.

Now, we should all be wary of Rotten Tomatoes, which has previously blessed us with the revelation that there are only two perfect sci-fi films, and that Sean Connery's best film is apparently "Darby O'Gill and the Little People." But to see "Half Nelson" almost in the top spot when it comes to the site's ranking of Gosling flicks restores just a smidge of my faith in our collective ability to know a good movie when we see one.

The most surprising part of all this is that I rarely hear "Half Nelson" mentioned, despite the fact that Gosling was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. It's not currently available on Blu-ray in the U.S., which I understand isn't exactly a measure of anything in 2024. But this movie came out in 2006 when Blu-ray was very much still a thing, and yet it was never given the HD treatment in the states, only abroad. Those of us who still like to track down our favorites on physical media have to make do with the "Half Nelson" DVD. People who are, y'know, normal, can stream the film on Peacock.

So, if you're yet to see this lesser-known Gosling gem, take as a sign this instance of Rotten Tomatoes doing something right for a change.