Where I lose all my self-respect and admit to enjoying La La Land…

lal2017.55: La La Land (2016)

The cynic in me should hate this film, one of the most patronising and condescending essays on self-worth, validation and success I have ever seen, an almost religiously reverential glorification of the myth of Hollywood. A fantasy-land devoid of poverty or drugs or crime, where monsters like Harvey Weinstein never existed and scandals such as now encompassing Kevin Spacey and others never happened. Here people just want to make music, act, write, create, as if the act were enough, as if they would do it for free, as if it’s nothing to do with self-aggrandising massive egos or becoming famous or grotesquely rich. Never in La La Land is it about a $50 million paycheck, never is it about being an arsehole to everyone around you because you can afford to, or buying a luxury yacht or private jet plane or exulting in being ‘somebody’, being adored, being a ‘star’.

This isn’t the real Hollywood. This is a fantasy writ large, accentuated by it being a musical, with grand songs and dance numbers. Its an ode to the impossible myth that surely no-one buys anymore in this enlightened cynical age. La La Land is a fuzzy fable, something from some other era entirely. This film should not exist, it’s another Blade Runner 2049… wait, it even stars the same actor, Ryan Gosling. What’s going on?

Indeed, the biggest wonder that strikes me about it is that it even got made. I mean sure, Hollywood loves to make movies about itself, especially sophisticated ones like this full of lovely beautiful people living lovely beautiful lives in the lovely beautiful city of Los Angeles that doesn’t need any police or even litter bins. But a musical? Musicals haven’t ‘worked’ for years, as a genre it’s akin to the dodo, surely, or decent NIcholas Cage movies.

And yet…


And yet the dreamer in me loved it. From the slightly WTF opening sequence on the freeway to the intellectually-satisfying ending, complete with it ripping your heart out, La La Land is the ultimate guilty-secret movie. I feel dirty liking it, almost. It’s wrong, I know. I shouldn’t succumb to its charms. But I really enjoyed it, marvelled at it.

That ending seals the deal though. That last ten/fifteen minutes added a strange sense of pathos to the fluffy adventure that quite surprised me, suddenly taking a detour into Some Other Movie- I love movies that do that. You know where it’s going and you really don’t want it do that but you love it for doing it.

There is something almost irrepressible about this film for anyone who loves movies, or particularly grew up watching the old movie fantasies of the 1940s and 1950 replaying on tv during childhood, all those MGM musicals etc. Hollywood was, clearly,  never the innocent tinseltown it would like to pretend it is, its image has surely been tarnished over the years to the point at which it can be polished no more, and yet La La Land exists.

The Oscars are not about deserving people winning deserved awards, it’s about politics and money and setting up future deals and greed and narcissistic super-egos of the super-rich. The real La La Land I’m sure is a frankly horrible place that destroys many poor souls up before it pauses for breakfast. But it always throws amazing dreams onto screens with abandon, cinematic flights of fantasy that appeal to dreamers the world over. That we pour over over and over. I love movies (well, good movies, at any rate) and the creativity of the visual arts.  I mean, in the cold light of day La La Land is horrible and manipulative. But aren’t all films manipulative? The beauty of this film at least is that it recognises, in this era of muzak soundtracks, ambient scores that all sound the same, the power and importance of music in a movie, that as a tool it has been discarded in the garden shed for too long.

But anyway, I enjoyed it. Don’t punish me for it, I feel bad enough about it as it is.

One thought on “Where I lose all my self-respect and admit to enjoying La La Land…

  1. Still haven’t got round to this, but it’s been kind of fascinating watching the reaction to it over the past… well, it must be over a year since I first saw reviews of it popping up on Letterboxd from festival screenings. There was so much love for it, lots of anticipation from the many people waiting for it to finally trickle down to a regular release. Then of course it exploded into awards season, and popular success as well. But I know a lot of people hated it, too. Anyway, quite a contrast to have gone from “festival favourite” to “awards darling” to “guilty pleasure”. I’m determined to slot it in before the end of the year, at any rate.

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