Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
I rarely, if ever, find myself in a position of being unable to write about a film. I’ve been tongue-tied before, unable to verbally communicate my feelings. But my job is to write. My job is to sound coherent on paper. And this time, I wish I could just break into a jig to express myself instead. I have two rather hostile left feet, and yet they’d be more eloquent than my words.
I crushed spectacularly on Damien Chazelle’s La La Land – blushing cheeks, furrowed brows, bubbling joyousness, brimming eyes and all – the moment we met for the first time last month.
It started as an adolescent swipe, a secret tryst born more out of pleasure than business. The screening, our little fling, was private. We parted ways, promising to cross paths very soon, in a more official manner. I genuinely began to pine for our next meeting, humming its tunes and sounds incessantly, behaving like a lost soul waiting for his absconding sweetheart at a deserted dusk-lit train station.
When we finally met again last night, this had snowballed into a full-blown immortal love affair – the kind they make misty American musicals about. I noticed its details: the way it dressed, its hats, glares and its style, its poise, gait and unnatural maturity (for its kind) in the most awkward of situations.
I know it had traveled the world and filled its bottomless heart with plenty of strange and similarly fleeting romances, but I was willing to share its spirit. I was willing to revel in its shade.
Because it is rare. La La Land is a rare movie that arrives at a rare moment in modern humanity. It’s as much a fruit of our endurance as it is a result of our diversions. We will value it, because we need it. Every now and then, the stars align to send us the precise kind of film we’ve destroyed each other long enough to deserve.
La La Land is a rare movie that arrives at a rare moment in modern humanity. We will value it, because we need it.
La La Land so full of goodness that it feels like more of a solution, a lovely-looking antidote to all the harebrained poisonous nonsense being currently contrived by this self-sabotaging planet.
The darker our times, the deeper and more desperate our affinity towards musicals grows. As a community in need of a breather, we invariably tend to cling onto the most literal rays of original hope. We obsessively yearn to sing and dance and feel all the things we’re numbed into un-feeling. We yearn for these outbursts to be our only medicine.
Vices become our solace, but cinema is our safehouse. Our choices, emphatic as they may seem, are indicative of the collective mood and a search for the quickest cure, the closest relief. Here is where movies transcend its medium and turn into more than just weekend visits to cinema halls or buttery fingers rummaging through popcorn buckets – more of a ‘return’ than an escape to a soothing space where everything and nothing is possible.
History stands witness to this theory: Chicago (2002) was lapped up for all its worth and more only a year after 9/11; Singin’ In The Rain (1952) marked a return to positivity and aspirations and affection after the Second World War; Mary Poppins (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965) captivated wounded imaginations soon after Kennedy’s assassination; Grease (1978) and Saturday Night Fever (1977) helped heal scars from the Vietnam war; even The Little Mermaid (1989) offered innocent refuge to a world still reeling from two tragic airplane explosions. This year’s signs were undeniable. Another timeless classic was well on the horizon.
2016, as we know, hasn’t been the most gracious of seasons. Legends have died, eras have ended and leaders have stopped leading. I can already imagine La La Land flying around with a jazzy cape, swooping in on the most afflicted and cynical areas of Earth and its social media forums, and painting them yellow and waltz-like and cobalt blue with its cheery halo-esque paintbrush and City of Stars superhero theme.
Only recently, I had written a mournful column about how this fickle world is forcing filmmakers to dream differently. It is forcing us to find artificial mind castles and unoriginal franchise babies to embrace, polluting the very essence of magic realism with violent flights of desperate fantasy. A film like this, though, reminds us why exactly something felt amiss.
When Emma Stone (as an aspiring actress) sings about us, to us, in an unbroken unerring shot of rising power (“Here’s to the ones who dream / foolish as they may seem”), it incites more than just a wave of familiar foolhardiness. We feel more than merely nodding our heads in unison. It not only assures us a little, but also improves us. And for the more fanciful, it even changes us a bit. How often can you say that of a film about beautiful people?
It isn’t perfect because it’s about all the imperfections of life – about love struggling to co-exist with ambition, about raw passion and the impassionate ageing of time, about the death of jazz and withering state of showbiz dreamers, about its perpetual existentiality between tradition and evolution, and about humans torn between humaneness and wonder.
And yet it’s impossible not to be hopelessly swayed by its old-fashioned conflicts, its retro visions of a ragingly neon-lit tinsel-town, its straggling dewy-eyed lead artists and a whimsical smorgasbord of effortlessly (far from, I’m sure) choreographed numbers.
It’s impossible not to imagine that the reason La La Land is so detached and simultaneously clued-in to real life is because of its eyes. The film has those crazy blue eyes – the kinds that burn and fluctuate and change colours for different types of unsuspecting cinemagoers with every passing second. The black eyes of a love story one moment, the green eyes of a coming-of-age drama the next; the brown eyes of a soaring symphony of positivity one second, the glassy grey eyes of a matter-of-factly heartbreaker the next.
The film has those crazy blue eyes – the kinds that burn and fluctuate and change colours for different types of unsuspecting cinemagoers with every passing second.
In one scene, we see Stone, who has had yet another terrible audition, drive away in a huff, again on the verge of giving up her dreams. She notices the flickering lights of Realto Cinema pass by, and suddenly her frustration gives way to a coy smile. She remembers Gosling (the fervently talented pianist; her co-struggler) through this venue of their upcoming date.
A boy and a movie, that’s all she needs. Her tension is history. As she drives by, we sense her mind churning with jittery butterflies-in-tummy scenarios. Just like that, we feel her chest’s warm fuzziness – the comfort of which we internalize as soon as the film’s mesmerizing first ten minutes (“Another Day of Sun”) rolls by. She hears the piano, or we hear his keys. We’re all in this together.
In Chazelle’s previous film, Whiplash (or the angry La La Land), there’d be no time and leeway for such a sequence. Yet, this one acknowledges the role of romance in shaping careers and vice versa. Most of us have had the one relationship that, with the fortune of hindsight, seemed destined to simply fashion our destiny, our dreams and our future being.
And so I ask: is it possible to fall in love with an entire film, as if it were a fellow human? Is it possible to feel nervous before (another) screening and elated after? It is probable to spend the rest of life with its intangible sensations? The first few dates have gone swimmingly. Perhaps it’s time to pop the question. Given the ominousness of this year’s end, maybe I already have. As will you.