THE headlines cast long shadows thanks to Brexit, Trump and other depressing things. Let’s talk instead about La La Land.
We went at the weekend and this modern take on the musical certainly is gorgeous, romantic and vibrant. The Oscar panel hadn’t nodded their heads when we sat down to watch at City Screen, so we saw the film before the latest big fuss, although Damien Chazelle’s film has been trailing an attention buzz for months now.
La La Land has a record-equalling 14 nominations at this year’s Oscars and seems likely to sweep all before it. To ask a simple but obvious question: is the film worth all the glittery palaver? In short, yes. Although some will be more persuaded than others.
To give a random sample, my wife came out in a swoon and wanted to go and see the film again straight away, and our daughter was similarly enraptured. I liked the film very much, but thought there should have been more music. And rather than a La La rerun, next on my to-see list is Manchester By The Sea, for which Cassey Affleck has a best actor nomination.
To tackle that big fuss question, it is impossible to say whether La La Land deserves quite so many nominations, as grading films by the gongs they receive is a fool’s game. How can two very different films/books/albums/TV programmes be measured alongside each other? In honesty, they can’t although they always are.
Awards often rush in one expected direction. At the Oscars, the momentum gathers behind one film, usually at the expense of other overlooked movies: Nocturnal Animals this time round, without even a mention for Amy Adams.
La La Land is a lovely piece of escapism and yet the film isn’t entirely buoyant, with downbeat moments that work to its credit. As you probably already know, Ryan Gosling plays a struggling jazz musician and Emma Stone a struggling actor.
Their relationship starts badly, with a few barriers to romance – not least Gosling’s character being a hardcore jazz bore. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing and it so happens that I like hardcore jazz bores. Stone’s character is easier to like and her performance matches fizzing energy with a haunted sense of inadequacy.
What works so well is that theirs is a relationship you can believe in. You want them to find love and to find each other, but whether they do or not is a secret that must be left on the screen.
Some have carped that Gosling and Stone don’t have the voices for a musical, but I thought they were just fine, and besides what they have by the brimming bucketful is charisma, and the spark of a real relationship.
La La Land acknowledges many great, musicals with more than a dip to An American In Paris, especially with the cartoonish fantasy sequences. The film is at its confident best in the musical sections, and the opening is fantastic, following the big musical tradition of starting with a bang. Where West Side Story has balletic aggression as the gangs warm up and Guys And Dolls has a swarm of street life – and a watch on a chain picked from pocket to pocket – La La Land starts with cars jammed on a flyover.
It’s a scene full of energy and charm and with an uplifting score, and balances the banality of a traffic jam with the human spirit of all those people stuck in their cars – until they leap out to sing and dance. Those first five minutes alone are reason enough to go and see La La Land, and the film has many other attractions.
I did enjoy the jazz side, too, and the ways Gosling’s character is so grumpy when the possible new love in his life says those dreaded words: “I don’t like jazz.”
Hadley Freeman said in her column in the Guardian Weekend mag last week that Gosling represented every jazz bore boyfriend she’d ever dated – and she expanded jazz bore to embrace various types of male obsession. Well, that’s her take but it wasn’t mine. And it certainly wasn’t that of the two women in our family.
My advice is to go and see La La Land before the backlash begins. For there is bound to be one of those.
When the headlines are casting such dark shadows, a bit of escapism is good, and La La Land offers such as escape route, while also keeping its feet on the ground. And, with a nod to the girls, Emma Stone does wear some very lovely dresses. Mind you, Ryan Gosling suits his suit, too. And his stubble.