Now here’s a confession………..In the last 10 years I have been to the cinema exactly twice. I saw “Dreamgirls” which I loved and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” which I didn’t. It wasn’t so bad that it put me off going but the two cinemas where I live on the Isle of Wight are not exactly local and the running of the guest house meant that I did not often have the leisure time to go to the cinema and when I did have the time sitting in a darkened room with an overpowering smell of tortilla chips and popcorn was not top of my priority list. It’s not that I don’t watch recent films, it’s just that by the time I get my act together they are out on DVD anyway.
So, was it this much-hyped film which caused me to return to the multiplex after so long an absence? You might conclude that seeing one of the last films I ventured out to see was a musical. You might think “he’s a musical buff waiting for the right film to come along”. Fair assumption, but it’s largely wrong. The main reason was 2 for 1 cinema tickets for a year thanks to those meerkats and a switched insurance policy when I moved from the guest house. They can be used on Tuesdays or Wednesdays and I’ve had them three months already and not had time to use them. This week I merged the fact that I was available on a Tuesday with more than a passing interest in what this film is about and returned to La La Land.
I’m not sure what my preconceptions about this film were or really knew why it was receiving such critical acclaim. When I returned from the cinema I discovered it received the highest ever Oscar nominations for a musical beating Mary Poppins and is up there in the all-time list of nominations ever. Is it partly to do with a need for escapism in a nervous post-Brexit vote, Trump-ridden world. I cannot normally predict what my response to musicals are, I’m a little wary of relating to actors not known for singing and dancing (Ryan Gosling). Sometimes (in the case of “Les Miserables” I’m blown away, other times “Into The Woods” springs to mind I’m seriously underwhelmed). There’s also my ultimate can’t make- up- my- mind- about- it movie that fits into this category. I’m strangely fascinated by “Moulin Rouge” but watching it makes the hairs stick up uncomfortably on the back of my neck and my hands go clammy with what I think is embarrassement. Part of this response is the way in which familiar pop songs are used in a manner reminiscent of the old children’s TV favourite, the “Crackerjack” finale with Peter Glaves and Ed “Stewport” Stewart fitting chart songs into some lame comedy sketch but I discovered I did not need to worry about this. “La La Land” has its own score of surprisingly melodic songs which work really well in the context of the film and a couple which might last beyond that. (The Oscar panel seem to think so as two are nominated for Best Original Song “City Of Stars” and “Audition”).
I was nervous about the two leads but needn’t have been. Ryan Gosling (Seb) has charm if not brimming with charisma and Emma Stone (Mia) is well cast. I’m not totally convinced that both should be up there for Best Actor Awards but there is undeniable chemistry between them. (They have worked together in films before). The singing is okay and much of the dancing is up to mid-season level of “Strictly Come Dancing” but it all works well. Some of the quite elderly audience on this Tuesday afternoon showing were expecting Fred and Ginger all the way, but it’s not and that needs to be accepted if you are going to get the most out of it.
Undeniable chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone
It does come out of the stalls running with a colourful, brash choreographed traffic jam scene which is visually very impressive and the first half of the film certainly lived up to the audience’s expectations of a musical. By mid-way through the story had moved to more standard boy meets girl/loses girl fare and there was momentary snoring in the audience (now I remember why it’s been ten years – other people). I think the audience (and maybe me if I’m honest) expected the glitz and glamour of the first half to last but then it might have ended up a visually impressive but ultimately shallow experience. We had the glitz, then we had story, with an alternative story glitzy ending which made a lot of sense. We can’t have too much of a good thing – it is 2017 after all!
I enjoyed John Legend’s contribution to the film which gave it a more contemporary feel and I loved that it was a film about passion, for acting in Mia’s case and (especially) for Jazz in Seb’s. There’s a quote in the film, and I don’t have it verbatim (I wasn’t taking notes!) when Mia is persuading Seb to follow his dream and open a jazz club which he thinks would be unprofitable about how people are seduced by the passion of others and this rang very true with me.
All in all I had a really good couple of hours. It has brought me back into the world of cinema, which I adored for most of my life so really not sure what this hiatus has all been about, other than I got out of the habit of going. I don’t think “La La Land” will be the best film I’ll see this year but I’m certainly praising it for triggering my latent enthusiasm and getting me back to the cinema. I’ve already made a mental note to seek out “Figures” starring the excellent Taraji P. Henson (Cookie in “Empire”) as soon as it comes out.