If Music Be The Food of Love
It’s currently snowing outside, the flakes fall like a conductors baton, landing as words on the screen. There’s a tranquil serenity to it all as the latest Justin Hurwitz soundtrack steps up and giddily instructs radiant L.A. sunshine into the grey sullen day. From the first keys piano of ‘Another Day Of Sun’, itself the outstanding opening set piece of ‘La La Land’ (2016), you could be could be sitting in an Arctic igloo midwinter with no fire, no milk for your porridge, no porridge and still be glowing with warmth and unmitigated joy.
There was (prior to press screenings) and still is much hype (it just won 7 Golden Globes) about the latest Damien Chazelle movie ‘La La Land’, which only his second major feature film after the outstanding ‘Whiplash’ (2014) displays a ridiculous but wondrous amount of unique talent in the very young (32) director. To a certain extent, ‘La La Land’ is a spiritual sequel to ‘Whiplash’. They both focus on aspiration, dreams and what it takes to achieve, or not achieve those goals/ambitions. Whereas ‘Whiplash’ was a beautifully intense, visceral almost boot camp of a movie (as if Rocky Balboa was a drummer), it was somewhat niche in it’s focus on jazz music, and within that genre, drumming. An incredible movie in itself, Damien has shrewdly/intuitively taken some of the message from that and relocateed it to a massive sound stage, presenting it in one of the most successful entertainment mediums ever, the musical.
Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian (who could be the adult version of Andrew in ‘Whiplash) a devote, loyal and obsessively purist jazz pianist, down on his luck in self imposed, stubborn, romanticised poverty stricken funk. His artistic sincerity is at odds with the frivolous indifference the general populous seems to have to the life force that is music, specifically jazz. But landlords don’t want to be serenaded, they want cold heartless cash, and the bills have to be paid. So Sebastian begrudgingly plays Christmas ‘classics’ sitting at the piano in a small bar, slowly dying with every tinsel stroke of a key.
Being true to oneself is incredibly difficult, daunting and draining. But in a singular moment of truth, his music creates a magnetic force that attracts and draws in a young aspiring actress in the guise of Mia (Emma Stone). And they meet, sort of.
Again, such is the hype surrounding this movie, I’ve heard many folk prematurely say/write that it’s not for then, they don’t like musicals. Even though there is a visual language (and song/dance numbers) used that is directly inspired by the great MGM musicals from orchestral galaxies far far away, this is an incredibly modern, tender, clever, intelligent movie, and despite the fantasy elements it’s hugely grounded in the highs, lows and pitfalls of life. At it’s core it’s a young love story, but it’s actually about the dreams you had in your more youthful days, and how that journey is going, or not. There’s a tangible sincerity and honesty that if you are in the right receptive frame of mind will hit you very powerfully indeed. You’ll regret what you didn’t do in life, not what you did.
Mia works as a barista on a movie lot coffee shop, also slightly down on her luck in trying to get that breaking casting call that begins her career that she has dreamed of (her bedroom is a shrine to her film heroines), but unlike Sebastian, she has more drive, despite the bumps, bruises and incessant rejections. There is many a moment when you just want to reach into the screen and give her a hug of hope.
Individually they haven’t learned what it takes to sow and reap success, but together, helping and loving each other they evolve as people, learning from and teaching, encouraging each other. But the people that know us the most, can hurt us the greatest too. It’s by no means a dream of a relationship despite incredibly gorgeous fantastical set pieces and songs that sparkle with a contagious euphoria that at no stage is trite, condescending or cynical.
Gosling is a singer/musician and has been in a band for years, so this sort of fare is second nature to him. Despite Emma not being known for her singing prowess she is mesmerisingly wonderful, and more importantly uncommercially natural, honest, which in turn makes you respond ever more powerfully to her portrayal. There is a singular moment that if you haven’t embraced her yet, your heart will melt. The chemistry between them is sublime, and you can tell from their Golden Globes acceptance speeches what genuine, sincere and funny folk they are, that glows from the screen. The movie and they (including Justin etc ) deserve every single award possible, including/especially Oscars, particularly for Emma.
If the performances weren’t enough, the movie is stunningly beautiful looking. To be honest, there’s a visual joke that starts the opening credits harking back to the Golden Age, the second I saw it, I knew I was going to worship this movie, and I did. When we were kids, me and my sisters used to watch ‘Fame’ the TV series, so the idea that the world could burst into spontaneous universal song and dance (rather than flames via the Trump reign) has had a tangible effect on me. Dancing is movement, it’s life itself, it’s hope, it’s freedom, it’s a celebration of not being dead. It’s muse is music and together they create joy. Years of clubbing has only solidified this belief meeting hundreds of not thousands of good people just enjoying, celebrating life. ‘La La Land’ is basically legal cinematic MDMA.
As mentioned at the start, Hurwitz is on board again doing the soundtrack and it’s superb. Like the movie itself there is a broad range of subject and situations, but all sublimely woven together (especially in a montage near the end). The soundtrack and the movie itself were instantly in my all time favs, and I don’t consider myself to be a ‘fan’ of musicals. The timing of UK release is somewhat perfect in that it’s the beginning of a new year, new hopes, new aspirations. Not that seeing this movie is going to make you run out and make a musical (but you should if you want to), but there’s very few, if any movies that show us so magnificently and exquisitely all the possibilities of life, and potential sacrifices, hard work too. Maybe Shakespeare made a typo and he really meant ‘musicals be the food of love’, probably not, but ‘La La Land’ is a towering symbol of the capabilities of what people can achieve, so ‘play on’.
10/10 La La Land is out now.