In the incredible sci-fi thriller Looper, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a younger version of Bruce Willis. But in real life, we find ourselves drawing comparisons between JGL and a peer closer to him in age but still a few paces ahead career-wise: Romantic comedy hero, heartthrob, and meme inspiration Ryan Gosling.
With each movie role, Gordon-Levitt moves further up the Hollywood ranks. Soon he’ll be joining Gosling in the A-list — if he hasn’t already — but the two should be able to co-exist pretty peacefully since Ryan sticks more to realism and dramas, whereas JGL has already carried noir, superhero, and franchise films. Still, you have to note several milestones in JGL’s personal and professional life that match up with the path Gosling has already laid down.
Transformative roles in thought-provoking films. In both Gosling and Gordon-Levitt’s early work, you can clearly tell their characters apart. And yet, each also hits a point in his career where he needs to up the ante. After playing the dream guy in The Notebook with his beard and his house and his letters, Gosling embodied characters who distressed and repulsed us: The odd protagonist of Lars and the Real Girl, who we didn’t know whether to pity or reject; and the seeming dream guy turned drunk, bitter, and fat in Blue Valentine.
It’s ironic that JGL’s protagonist in Looper is named Joe, because he’s so foreign from the Gordon-Levitt that he knows. Not just because he’s been fitted with facial prosthetics and adjusted his mannerisms to eerily match Willis’ older Joe, but also because he’s the embodiment of a future that’s not so distant. As a mob hitman, or “looper,” he’s part of the in-crowd in this dystopian world, blessed with all the money and drugs he could need and hyper-focused on squeezing every bit of hedonism out of the present. He’s tortured but not dramatic about it, dark but still functioning. It’s one of the most complex roles JGL has played so far, with that nuance brought out by his collaborative partner, writer/director Rian Johnson.
The body. If you mention JGL’s name to someone, I can bet the initial reaction will be to say that he cuts a fine figure in a suit. After all, nearly every photo spread starring him has had him bedecked in silk duds that would make Barney Stinson weep. Really, we could gaze longingly at photos of these two in suits for hours. Nerve.com described both as “the thinking man’s sex symbols”; really, they both just give off this very classy, put-together persona.
Now, when it comes to shirtlessness, JGL is a little behind Gosling, who demonstrated himself to be supremely comfortable with his sculpted form in last year’s Crazy, Stupid, Love. Or at least, Gordon-Levitt was, until he hosted Saturday Night Live last week and kicked off his monologue with this incredible Magic Mike homage:
Just look at that face. He’s loving this.
Fan engagement. Before Feminist Ryan Gosling was a meme, JGL had launched hitRECord, “an open-collaborative production company” where users can upload their drawings, videos, music, etc. (“records,” for short) and remix their art with other people’s. “RegularJoe,” as he’s called, collaborates with the other users as well, and screens the final products at venues ranging from dive bars to the Sundance Film Festival. While we’ve never heard Gosling actually acknowledge his meme, by contrast here you have Joe thanking users for sharing their work and taking their time to join the collaboration.
Retroactive fandom. Once Gosling became every woman’s dream man, you could guarantee record pageviews on a site by digging up some old material on him: Mickey Mouse Club duets, Mormon talent shows, anything showing that sexy man as a floppy-haired youngster. I’d like to think that most of JGL’s fans are the ones who first met him in 1999′s 10 Things I Hate About You, but it may be that they didn’t recognize him at first. (For the record, I’ve been following his career ever since he played the lovelorn Cameron and held his own opposite the likes of Heath Ledger.) But I bet that folks will now be Netflixing the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, to watch a long-haired JGL as extraterrestrial Tommy, stuck in the body of an American teenager.
Saving someone. OK, this is the one area where JGL hasn’t quite caught up. Whereas Gosling has saved young women from speeding New York City cabs, Gordon-Levitt has yet to be profiled in a similar situation. But he’s such a sharp, astute, head-turning guy that I wouldn’t be surprised if he soon finds himself in a situation where he’s called upon to be a real-life version of Blake/Arthur/Joe/Wilee.
Photo: Alan Markfield/DMG Entertainment/Looper, LLC