I don’t like musicals.
I’ve always found it a little unnerving how a group of people can all burst out into joyous song and then moments later pretend like it never happened. I guess musicals have always seemed a little disingenuous to me. I’ve always been more of a fan of realist gritty drama, something that has Jake Gyllenhaal frowning a lot in is probably more up my street. I guess I like to be able to completely immerse myself in the story that unfolds, and let the actors make me feel like I’m really there. When I’ve watched a musical, I find this a little hard to do, as the actors are crying one moment and doing the jive the next.
BUT, I decided to go and see La La Land for two reasons. Those reasons being Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. I’ve been a huge fan of both of theirs for quite a while. Gosling was exceptional in Drive, as was Stone in The Help… But when the two of them came together for Crazy Stupid Love, something special happened. Their chemistry was electrifying – and in my opinion, was the sole reason that film did so well. (No offence to Steve Carrell in his usual uptight Dad role).
So seeing Stone and Gosling together again was what made me get down to the cinema for La La Land’s opening night. Oh, and maybe after the dark and gloomy depths of 2016, we could all do with a bit of singing and dancing.
Now, the film opens in summertime on a busy LA highway, with car horns beeping as a traffic jam is at a standstill. And then, from nowhere, the drivers get out of their cars and begin jumping on their car bonnets and singing. Cue the first number for this musical. Women whirl past with their dresses flying up in the wind and guys on skateboards olly from Fords to Toyota Prius’. Everyone is doing all this, of course, whilst singing in perfect unison.
As the song finishes and everyone gets back into their cars, the man sitting next to me in the cinema whispers to his wife, “that was great, wasn’t it!?”
At this, I panic. I don’t think I ‘get’ musicals, or maybe I just don’t like them…. So what am I doing sitting at the front row of one?
However, soon enough Stone, as failing actress, Mia, and Gosling as failing Jazz musician, Seb, cross paths. Initially the two are not the biggest fans of each other. But, after a game of cat and mouse involving Mia dramatically leaving her boyfriend at the dinner table and Seb playing ‘Take On Me’ by A-Ha to Mia during a pool party, the pair finally end up together.
But the film does not stop here. And that is why it’s good. Boy gets girl is usually the ending of most films, but for La La Land it’s only the beginning. The film delves into the the intricacies and difficulties a couple faces when one half succeeds and the other doesn’t. Seb’s band make it big and Mia still isn’t getting past that first audition, which ultimately causes the demise of their relationship.
Even when Seb doesn’t turn up to Mia’s one woman show, or when Seb tries to romantically surprise Mia with a home cooked meal but instead ends up with a fire alarm going off and Mia storming out, you’re still rooting for them. You really want them to be together. It’s all believable – the way they kiss each other, the way they wind each other up. It’s a relationship we’ve all known and we want it to work.
There is singing in between the arguing and the kissing. Neither Stone or Gosling has an outstanding singing voice, but they don’t need to. Their honest voices are deliciously in tune and work very well together – reflecting their relationship. Although the relationship doesn’t last as Mia leaves to Paris for the big film role she’s always wanted.
Towards the end of the film there is a scene which is sort of a parody of a musical. Everything that could’ve gone right, goes right this time, and life is just as planned.Seb and Mia end up together, get married and have a baby. All is well, right? But this is just a parody, this isn’t the real story.
The film ends with Mia walking into the Jazz bar she always wanted Seb to build, with her husband. Her husband that isn’t Seb. Seb and Mia see each other, and although there is love there, they let each other go their separate ways. Because it’s real life, and real life often doesn’t go quite as planned.
And that’s why I think this film works. Although there is singing and dancing on cars, the story that runs through the musical is real. It’s frustrating, sad, happy and true.
So maybe I can’t say I don’t like musicals anymore. Perhaps La La Land has converted me.