La La Land

I get why they called it La La Land. I’ve been reading about this land since my teens… when Gore Vidal, Jackie Collins and Joan Collins were some of the various authors whose works I devoured. I have read Joyce Carol Oates, Huxley and Fitzgerald in my college years. I have been a fan of movies since I could walk. I have been raised in Mumbai, a city that has the similar prestige of fulfilling dreams of fame. I have seen Abhimaan, the theme of which was applicable to La La Land, but in a more rustic way… though the music of the former completely outshines the latter – in my opinion.

But then I could talk about the countless other musicals that I think overshadowed La La Land. Singing in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady! Or if you must remove ourselves from the times when musicals were fantastic then I shall mention Grease, Moulin Rouge, Mamma Mia and Chicago!

I agree that the dynamics here are slightly different – we want grittier stuff, we want a sad ending, we want (do we?) a series of fade ins and outs, we want more reality, we want more angst – but don’t we also want good dancing, good lyrics, good – er, singing? I must say, I expected more. I expected good songs, dammit. It did divert from other musicals when the predominant focus of the movie was just these two characters, the only other character I remember other than the main leads, is the hero’s sister. So that in itself sets the tone apart from almost all other musicals.

I will point out the good stuff. Emma Stone couldn’t sing – but man, that woman can act! She is dynamic and her face is fluid with emotion. She stole my breath away in quite a few scenes, all of them when she is rife with struggle. She needs an accolade, she did but then so did Ryan Gosling. That brings me to him: He played the piano damn well, in fact, he learned how to make love to the black and white keys in a few months, commendable indeed! But acting? His face is pretty and wooden. So then I keep looking to his eyes then for some glimpse of emotion, but not only is his face stone but his eyes are blank. They had to light up his eyes in the end to get some life in them… He is just dispassionate – and he got an award?

The title track: the lyrics are flat, but the melody is breathtaking. It sits with you. You look forward to hearing it even in the background score. The song that I like (lyrics and music – not the singing, mind) is Audition (The Fools Who Dream). The lyrics are beautiful, it has the quality of I Dreamed a Dream, and Anne Hathaway’s is not the best rendition, yet still so moving… ah well. Audition rests as my favoured song from the movie.

But I would really like to ask, why make it into a musical? If you have a sterling actress and a reasonable plot why transform the genre? She is an actress and he is a pianist. We see episodes of her screen tests (magnificent) and we see episodes of him playing the piano. So shouldn’t that have been enough to lay foundation to character and plot?

Maybe it is a musical because of the last few minutes of the movie, when the narrative spins into a Ginger Rogers – Fred Astaire take on how the movie could have been, and when it actually catapaults you into the space where the movie breathes into a musical personality. It’s cut short however. Maybe then they should have just forgotten about making it into a musical – if it is about music, then it should have worked with predominant jazz, that called to Mia in the first place. Make it about his music and not make it into a musical! But then it’s not just about his music – so frankly, let me push the buck and say making it a musical seems misogynistic.

I admit that life has its idiosyncrasies, how people drift, how love and careers seldom make good bedfellows, but all of this could have been done better. Hell, it has been done better. The movie actually makes a little more sense when I see it from a different angle, it’s never about these two characters and their love for each other, it is about these two characters and their love for their careers and how these two enable that to happen in the course of their few months together. The best scene in the movie (no! it wasn’t them dancing in the “stars”) was the argument that they have at the dinner table, when they both tell each other that their dreams are what makes them tick, and the fact that they shouldn’t be given up for love is left hanging like a guillotine.

So the movie makes us understand that the Real and the Romantic do not mix, which is the truth. In reality, we are all really lousy singers. Passion lasts for about a year. You have to go through heartbreak to be successful. Dreams can be found, if dancing among the stars is forsaken, and there you have the paradox of the movie. No dancing together in the city of figurative, twinkling stars but performing in the city of worldly, rich stars

Also, if you note, she has a boyfriend whom she leaves for Seb, after she essentially hears him play the first time – I mean, who doesn’t have a thing for a talented, tortured musician? Okay, that’s a whole different argument. But coming back to my point, she hears him play when she is married in the end, so chances are she may just go back to him later – hopefully, there isn’t a sequel then. And if there is, please don’t let it be a musical!

(And I still didn’t understand why they didn’t get better lyricists for the movie?)

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