La La Land – a tissue-thin fantasy

 

Last Friday I skived off from the restaurant and persuaded Tom to take me to the movies.

Tom is the restaurant’s gay book-keeper. He is the first choice to take one to see Dream Girls, Diana Ross – or La La Land.

He once gave me a full-sized high-heel chocolate shoe because I said I would eat a shoe if it were covered in chocolate.

We went to the Oxford Valley Mall cinema in Pennsylvania. All the seats are Lazeeboy recliners.

Tom bought a tub of popcorn the size of a washing machine.

***

La La Land, the new film from Damien ‘Whiplash’ Chazelle comes with sumptuous hype. It has just won seven Golden Globes, eleven Bafta nominations and is the expected winner of the 89th Academy Award for Best Picture.

It is being celebrated as the best new musical since… the last best new musical, a very conscious ode to the allure of classic Hollywood.

**

The movie starts with a traffic jam. The freeway under God’s own sunlamp is like a parking lot. LA commuters – young hopefuls? – fling open their doors and leap out of their vehicles, throwing themselves into an energetic 100% singing 100% dancing number. “Another Day of Sun” trills on about how each day brings new hope for these young wannabe artists.

The cast is intensely millennial; snowflakes free of any kind of responsibility (except possibly when their next orthodontists appointment is), dance through life, natter incessantly about drivel, are lightly educated and have only the vaguest idea of what they’re doing and where they are going.

It’s a deep mystery how they keep up the car payments.

Chazelle’s film is about a silly land of lotus eaters, a Technicolor never-never world populated entirely by people who want to pretend to be other people (i.e. actors.)

Naturellement, one young hopeful is Mia – Emma Stone. We see her in the traffic jam. She is going through her lines for an audition. She drives a Toyota Prius. (Of course she does.)

Emma is pretty, but forgettable. A less beautiful version of Nicole Kidman. She repeatedly fails to catch the attention of the jaded casting agents. If we are meant to admire Hollywood’s beauty, we must also see its hard, jaded face.

The only person who seems to notice Mia is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), an equally rootless nobody. Seb’s prize possession is a piano stool. He avers that it was once sat on by Hoagy Carmichael.

Sebastian’s dream is to save jazz, a genre he thinks is becoming extinct, though some music writers have taken issue with how La La Land represents the situation. It may be a movie about dreams but it’s a muddle about jazz.

The critics also complain that Sebastian ‘whitesplains’ jazz, a genre that started in the black community.

Anyhoozles.

Seb wants his own jazz club. Mia wants fame as an actress.

***

I have never been attracted to Los Angeles. I don’t care for the granola countryside.The hideous houses of the rich and famous make me shudder.

The LA that La La Land depicts is precisely as I expected; reminiscent of an ugly theme park. When Seb twirls around a lamp post during a dance number like Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain it is a kind of blasphemy.

Of course it’s a musical. I happen to love musicals. I never tire of watching Barbra Streisand singing with the waiters at the Harmonia Gardens while Louis Armstrong says ‘Well Hello Dolly….’

I adore Richard Gere singing and dancing as Billy Flynn in Chicago. ‘Give em the old razzle-dazzle…’

But the dazzle factor of movie musical stars hasn’t sparkled much since Liza Minnelli in Cabaret– arguably one of the greatest musicals – and – movies of all time.

Somehow in LLL, when the actors break into singing and dancing and making appearances over small hills, all the spinning, jerking, ducking and weaving failed to capture my attention.

Perhaps it is because there are no truly memorable songs – perhaps ‘City of Stars’ – but that is a little too dirge-like to be a toe-tapper.


Perhaps it is because the lead characters Sebastian and Mia (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone) do not have the electric connection that Patrick Swayze and Baby have in
Dirty Dancing.

While they are both competent, Stone and Gosling lack the electric magic that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had.

There is not one knock-out dance routine that people will be emulating for decades (cf John Travolta and wotsherface in Saturday Night Fever.

The storyline is hardly inspirational. At best it is reasonably satisfactorily humdrum.

Mia is an aspiring actress who serves frappucinos. Sebastian is a largely unemployed musician and jazz afficionado.

Love blooms – a bit – no grande passion, just stylized pastiche. Interesting because Stone and Gosling – who’ve made a convincing screen couple twice before, in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad – didn’t leave me persuaded that some serious lightning in the loins had taken place.

Even when they go to the Griffith Observatory, inauthenticity studs the heavens.

One reviewer declared Contrary to what many have described as the most joyous film of the year, I found it to be devastating. The longing, the aches, the dreams realized and abandoned. It also boasts the best love story….

Where, one wonders, does that leave Casablanca? I am bemused.

If Rebel Without a Cause produced a new, dissolute kind of teen, possibly the most interesting thing about La La Land is that it has given us The Young Fogey – an old-fashioned, ancient-young modern. Seb may be in his twenties, but he has the pretensions (and dancing style) of a 70-year-old.

Mia yaps into her phone but says things like “Holy hell!”. She dresses like someone slightly older than Woody Allen.

In the end, for me, the movie has no heart. It is a chimera, a tissue-thin fantasy.

It cheapens the central experience of people’s lives and is unlikely to reveal anything about falling in love or the brittle, shallow Hollywood pettiness that you don’t already know.

La La? More like blah blah.