By Anne T. Donahue
This week, Ryan Gosling made the ultimate revelation: after doubting his ability to do so, he found his Kenergy.
This is something I could’ve told you he’s had all along. Not because I’m a 00s-era Gosling stan (I hate The Notebook, there are actually not enough words to explain how much I hate The Notebook), but because I knew who he really was all along. I, like maybe two other people in my eighth grade class, had a crush on Sean Hanlon from Breaker High. And if that isn’t a role defined by Kenergy, then I’m not quite sure what is.
In 1998, the heartthrob landscape was shifting. Leo was in, JTT was out, and those of us in dire need of a non-threatening boy to fall hopelessly in love with were being greeted by the faces of Josh Hartnett (who looked like my friend’s brother’s friends – a.k.a. a little too mature), Nick Lachey (absolutely not with that terrible tattoo), and the Backstreet Boys (Nick being the only one that looked like we could hang out at the mall, compared to Kevin who looked like he could drive us there because he was my dad). Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Heath Ledger were a year away from their places in my heart, and while I did love Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer, I knew he was an adult and knew much more about the world than me and my Seventeen magazine could possibly understand.
Enter: Breaker High, a Canadian TV show about a high school set on a cruise ship that fused together various social hierarchies and teens (or 20-somethings pretending to be teens) I wanted to be and/or be with. My friends liked Max best: he was the captain’s son, a rebel, and a moody boy who still puts Kendall Roy to shame. I hated him. To me, he was far too complex and far too grown-up. He looked like he could maybe shave, and he could absolutely drive a car. If they’d presented him a recent divorcee, I would believe it. At the time, the boys I liked rebelled, but only within the context of being sent into the hall in school for talking back too much, and they still had to be nice to me because we were in seventh grade and were also still children. I liked Sean. The nerdy boy with a penchant for saying “Call me” because that’s what people used to do once upon a time. A boy who wore loud-print shirts and liked to scheme and had a haircut like Jack Dawson’s. A boy played by a young Ryan Gosling.
There is nothing remotely cool about Sean. Yes, he has Ryan Gosling’s face, but he is also a believable teenager, a source of comic relief who bumbled his way into the heart of Tamara, the only other girl onboard who really truly gets him. (In my head, I was also Tamara, and I would obviously also understand him if he and I were to ever meet.) He isn’t hip. He isn’t suave. He tries very hard, and he grins like an idiot. And such, he was my everything. A Leo stand-in for when the video store was out of Titanic. He had Kenergy.
Kenergy, as I see it, is an earnestness reserved only for those who’ve yet to experience anything remotely bad or inconvenient. They’re psyched to be alive; to show up, to participate, and to rally the crowds for the dawn of a new day. Ken – or at least what I can tell from repeated screenings of the trailer – is a man so stoked on life that he brings with him an unparalleled amount of joy. He loves prints and colours and Barbie and wearing his shirts open to display his non-threateningly plastic physique. He is not cool, he is not hip. Ken does not know what “suave” means, and I’m sure he’d be horrified to find out. Ken is Sean, and Sean is Ryan, and Ryan used to tap dance on The Mickey Mouse Club. He is not a grisly thespian: he is Ken, and always will be.
Some of you already know this. Some of you knew that amidst his turns in First Man or Blade Runner 2.0 or every other movie he’s been in that’s garnered Oscar buzz that deep down, there was a Sean and a Ken, desperate to escape. We knew, in the depths of our souls, that it was only a matter of time before we were greeted with blonde highlights and a believable way of telling Barbie that he had no idea what they might do if he spent the night. We saw those roller blading photos, and we knew: Ken was there. Ken was always there. Sean Hanlon had never actually left.
And so here we are, the righteous ones. The ones who knew. The ones who, when overhearing claims that Ryan Gosling could never be Ken, knew more than we knew our own names that he was born to play this role. We remembered Sean’s flare for prints and button ups; for hats and what I think were also blue pleather pants. We remembered his inability to be dark and mysterious; that he was the antithesis to Max or boring Alex. We felt the flutters of familiarity as we recalled his innocent schemes and comic relief. All was, finally, right with the world. We had been vindicated for the second time: first, because we’d always known he was a babe, and second, because we knew Ryan has been brimming with Kenergy since his first days alive, ready to wear fuchsia and look terrific while doing so.
Kenergy was never something Ryan Gosling needed to achieve. Kenergy was in front of us the whole time, desperate to be set free.
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