A few weeks ago, I returned from a late night cinema trip to see the film that everyone seems to be talking about at the moment – with nearly a record number of Oscar nominations, BAFTA wins and rave reviews here, there and everywhere, it’s the film of the moment.
I’m going to start with a little honesty. To begin with, I didn’t love La La Land.
I’ve read reviews and tweets where people seemed to be wrapped up in it from the very moment the scene is set on that super-sunny gridlocked morning in LA, and I’m going to be honest: I wasn’t.
It’s a bit tricky when you don’t quite see what others seem to in a film, or a book, or a TV show. I believe it to be very much an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ situation – everyone is raving because surely if it’s been nominated that much, it must be good, right? If the critics adore it, there’s no doubt about it – it’s sure to be a masterpiece.
I found my uncertainty and unease about the film all the more uncomfortable because I am an absolute sucker for romance, musicals and old-school Hollywood. Surely I should be head-over-heels.
After a while of trying to work out what it was that didn’t sit right, I came to the conclusion that there were three main issues:
Firstly, I found the musical elements a little quiet. There was no ‘wow’ factor with the opening scene. It was beautiful, and visually stunning, and the song was catchy – but I felt there was little ‘power’ behind it, and it lacked the punch of the traditional busy opening.
Secondly, the modernisation of the classic Hollywood movie took a little getting used to as well. There was no ‘hamming it up’, and it was seamless – which was beautiful, but when you’re expecting an element of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, it takes some time before you’re completely invested – by which time, the film is almost over.
Finally, there are so many powerful films out at the moment; commentaries on race, gender, and equality. Take a look at Lion, Fences, and Moonlight. Why should this romance be getting so much attention, when there are so many influential movies to compete with?
These were my initial thoughts at least.
I left the cinema having enjoyed the film, but lacking the ‘wow’ factor that would usually keep me talking about it for weeks and weeks and weeks on end. This has, until now, left me scratching my head, trying to work out why I feel differently.
The interesting part is, despite feeling uncertain about the film itself, I have been listening to the soundtrack almost every day. ‘A Lovely Night’ has made my daily trips to the Waitrose coffee machine far more sassy, and ‘Someone in the Crowd’ makes my commute much more exciting. The music is fantastic.
And so, a few weeks later, it’s finally hit me. I am learning to love La La Land, slowly but surely. It’s taken a little bit of time, and plenty of rumination, but there’s a little part of me whispering:
‘Oh, but it would be fun to watch it again, wouldn’t it?’
And here are four brief reasons why I think I started to warm towards it, a few days later:
- The ending was perfect. In fact, it was my favourite part. I am all for the unconventional romantic tale; where ‘happily ever after’ is elusive, and where heroines and heroes are at fault. ‘The Epilogue’ remains one of my favourite scenes (and pieces of music), and the beautifully shot daydream scene still plays on my mind. I love a little lost love in a film or book, and this ticked all the boxes.
- The music – again – is brilliant. I swear I am single-handedly increasing the album’s stats on Spotify.
- The message the film sends out about dreams and aspirations in terms of relationships is unusual for a hollywood romance.
- At a time when the news is stressful, the world seems to be going mad, and we have so much to worry about, it’s wonderful to have some escapism, and a film which doesn’t ask us to assess our morals or outlook on politics.
I’ll elaborate a little.
The ending is one of my favourite things about La La Land, as I have said. The recognition of ‘what could have been’ and lost opportunities really stuck with me. The idea what a relationship doesn’t dictate success or achievements resonates with me every day. And the concept of nostalgia – the fact that our past relationships will always mean something to us, no matter how long ago or how badly they worked out – is a real issue which affects all of us.
It’s a happy ending, but not in the way we expect. Seb and Mia achieve their dreams – and they could have done so together – but life took them in different directions. They are content, and though they are haunted by what might have been, they carry on with the path they have chosen. This raw, relatable ending is a very ‘un-Hollywood’ way to end a ‘Hollywood’ tale, and I think that’s what I love the most.
After a little time dwelling, I realised it was these human elements that lasted for me, once I’d left the cinema. The fact that I wasn’t blown away immediately was just my personal reaction to a film which so many love. Perhaps I wasn’t quite ‘in the zone’, or maybe I was just expecting too much (and for this, I blame the reviews!)
As for the whole ‘what about the more important films’ argument – so many of us go to the cinema for a little escapism. It’s nice to get away from it all, isn’t it?
In time, I’ve grown to appreciate La La Land – and boy, will I be excited to see it again when I inevitably buy it on DVD. Do I think it’s the best film I’ve seen in a long time? No. Do I think it achieves the same level of Hollywood glamour as the classics? No.
But I love La La Land more than I did, and I’m sure that love will grow each time I see it.
(Now excuse me while I go and listen to ‘Another Day of Sun’ on loop once more.)