La La Land—Dazzling Punch of Imperfection
“I just wanna let life hit me. . . ’til it’s tired.”
A man in the next row caught my attention.
One Saturday night I sat in a jam-packed theater, nestled in the middle of the upper rows. A gray-haired fellow had eased into the seat ahead of me. His wife tucked closely to his side, they partook of a gigantic bag of the ever-famous-butter-smothered-theatrical, popped-corn. The man plucked out a few pieces and sleekly tossed them into his mouth. He proceeded to lick off each finger on his left hand and then swing that hand to the side—resting as if a bird would happily fly down to perch there. He was the perfect person to be seeing La La Land.
Musicals show life how it is—not how we see it, or remember it, but how we sense it in the moment. It’s like if we were incredibly lucid to the reality around us. Lucid in the moments that we go to our own La La Land. . . we’d see life like this.
La La Land is operatic. It is outrageous with its extreme expressions and dazzling primary colors. The unique and thrilling single-shot opening song sweeps the audience into the grandeur that is about to befall them. The gray-haired fellow ooo-ed and awed at all the right times.
La La Land has the taste of a dream-like reality, but it does not eclipse the imperfection of life.
The believablity of musicals, especially those adapted for the screen, has declined for some years. We want to see real life! We want to see the world as we know it. La La Land’s dancing-up-into-the-conservatory-air sought to capture the feeling of new love, but ultimately failed. The stream of consciousness imaginary sequences with their silhouettes, staged streets, cut-out landscapes pushed it a little too far. Rather than breathing the air of the story, some scenes smothered my suspension of disbelief and forced me to breathe the air of the theater. Fortunately, alongside these few failures, the film broke into my everyday-life.
La La Land provokes our dry-humor, uses our iPhones, and incorporates our dances. Amidst its whimsical sequences it kind of feels like life: the awkward way one comes to hold someone’s hand, the incessant reality of a barista having coffee spilled on her, the loss of one’s Prius in a California-sea of Priuses, the sadness following a bad audition, and the slow-growing pain of a dwindling love. Finally! A musical that is not nostalgic alone! This is us; we are not perfect.
Now, I just expect explicitly romantic movies, especially musicals, to end with: 1) Both give up everything they ever wanted out of life for each other, 2) Boy gets girl—period. La La Land is surprising. Most of the time, things don’t work out the way we expect, neither does La La Land. But, sometimes the unexpected is rather beautiful.
When the lights came up, a 22 year-old boy-man, third row, seat C, shot up from his seat and grabbed his garbage. His friends picked up their purses and coats and stuff. At some point, unbeknownst to me, he spilled one of those gigantic bags of popped-corn all over the floor, to his embarrassment I assure you. He lumbered out of the theater with an I-am-still-pretty-cool swag, and his friends crunched over the popped-corn, following him. In the end, La La Land was the movie for him too.
– K. Pastore