Tuesday, 13 June 2017

La La Land: a note to follow So-So Land

It starts with a traffic jam: suddenly someone gets out of their car and starts singing and everyone else joins in and dances through the stationary cars to music which is being played by the token illegal immigrants hidden in the back of a lorry. Then they all get back in their cars and the blockage mysteriously clears and they all drive off except ditzy Emma Stone who is looking at a map to tell her how the hell to get out of this mess before it's all too late. The bloke in the car behind her (Ryan Gosling) blares his horn and overtakes her in a disgruntled manner which is highly understandable being as he's had to sit through a West Coast version of Fame for the last ten minutes.

Emma Stone goes to a coffee shop in a film studio where she works, and stars swan in and out and people spill coffee on her. She goes to auditions where people are rude to her, and when she doesn't get the part it is the end of the world. She lives with three other models in primary-coloured dresses who go to parties, but she feels out of place there because it's oh-so-hard to be beautiful and misunderstood. They dance around like The Wiggles or The Spice Girls Minus One (Probably Mel C; the one with the talent) - 26 seems a bit old to still be going through this adolescent angst, but she does it with a very pretty pout.

The Bland Girls
After ten tedious minutes of her story, we return to the traffic jam (we really are getting nowhere fast) and take it up from the point of view of the hornblower (Ryan). He talks to his sister in a scene in his flat which is meant to indicate how poor he is because there is a stain on the wall and he's got no furniture. They swap lines like 'Unpaid bills are not romantic' and 'I want to be on the ropes. I'm letting life hit me until it gets tired and then I'm going to hit back', but don't worry about getting to know the sister because once she has set up the exposition, she disappears never to be seen again.

Ryan Gosling gets fired from his job as a pianist in a restaurant for blatantly disobeying his boss's directions to only play the set-list. He is so upset that he rudely barges past Emma Stone who was coming to tell him how much she had enjoyed his playing. Time passes (we know because the titles helpfully tell us that we have moved through the seasons) and Emma Stone indulges in more bad auditions and pool parties - poor love.

Play something we know!
She meets Ryan again at a party where he is playing keyboards in an 80's tribute band. To get her own back for his previous rudeness, she requests the band play 'I Ran', which he later tells her is an insult to a serious musician (36 is definitely too old to be having adolescent pretensions). He should be so lucky; it's the best piece of music in the whole film. As they walk back to their cars they have a 'moment', which provides the opportunity for the typical teen I-Hate-You-But-I-Love-You routine. Cue for a song about a Waste of a Lovely Night, which has some decent lyrics and choreography, like something out of a Doris Day film, but only if you couldn't care less about Doris, and she couldn't sing or dance.

Ryan then pops to the coffee shop where Emma works (drawn, one supposes by her looks, because there is nothing attractive or even apparent about her personality) and she tells him how much she loves it there and dreams of being an actor. He reciprocates by explaining that he dreams of being a musician and having his own club. Things look up briefly when she says she doesn't like jazz, but plummet rapidly when he attempts to justify how great it is and we have to endure some random musical noise.

Although she wants to be an actor she has never seen Rebel Without a Cause, which shocking oversight can only be explained by her utter self-absorption. Ryan, who is slightly more aware that there may be other players in the entertainment field, says he'll take her to the pictures 'for research' and then walks along a pier into a beautiful sunset, singing a merry song and nicking an old bloke's hat.

Where did you get that hat?
Next day Emma gets a callback which is supposedly brutal (but actually realistic) and looks forward to going out with Ryan until her boyfriend turns up and takes her out to a meal about which she had forgotten - both the meal and the boyfriend it seems. You needn't get attached to him either because, after hearing some piano music that reminds her of Ryan, Emma ditches the dinner and the boyfriend, and runs to the cinema. She selfishly stands in front of the projected image at the front of the screen (thus blocking the view of all the other patrons - but since when did she care about anyone else?). Just as Emma and Ryan are about to snog in the cinema, the projector burns through the screen and she still never gets to see how to make a decent film.

Serious code violation
Instead, the couple continue their date at Griffith Observatory where the fight scene from Rebel Without a Cause was filmed (see how multi-layered this thing is?). Apparently it is a gravity-free zone and they are soon floating around among the stars like a cross between E.T. and Mary Poppins, and they finally get to kiss. This is clearly inspirational as Emma Stone then writes a play (as you do) and her model chums pop up for one more scene to be told that it is a one-woman play and they are soon to be left on the cutting-room floor.

ET meets Mary Poppins

More seasons pass (we are helpfully told by the addition of inter-titles, such as are used in silent films - if only...) and there is a montage of Emma and Ryan visiting things, going to parties, laughing youthfully, riding cable cars and walking had-in-hand. He plays pianos in bars while she dances unselfconsciously in the middle of the pub. They are in love. And, presumably, living together.

Look at me, everybody!
Some bloke in a tight yellow polo-neck offers Ryan a job but he says he'll Never Work With Him. In the next scene Ryan Works With Polo-Neck Bloke and takes the gig (partly because Emma has pointed out that he might actually earn some money). The band they play for lays dub and techno over trad jazz - which is apparently what the young people want, because no one is interested in old jazz anymore and all the innovators are dead. Emma goes to see the band, but they are popular, which disappoints her and she looks like someone has strangled a puppy because success is so vulgar. He goes on tour with this band and is highly successful and makes lots of money but is Away A Lot and doesn't call every day.

Meanwhile Emma quits her day job (despite all the obvious advice) at the cafe by symbolically handing in her apron, and she becomes a writer, by shaking hands with people and scattering pieces of paper all over the floor - it really is that easy it seems! Once more we move through the seasons until we hit Fall, which is a METAPHOR!

Ryan comes home for a surprise visit and cooks a giant chicken or a fatted calf or some enormous hunk o' meat. He tells her he is going to stay in the band for a few more years and keep touring and making money. They fight because this may be The Dream but it is not His Dream and he has sold his soul to the Electrical Keyboard Devil. Then Ryan sets the kitchen on fire and the smoke alarm takes over the high-pitched whining, and Emma runs away (her penchant for escaping mid-meal is clearly the latest in Hollywood dieting chic).

Emma books a theatre to perform her play, which only about half a dozen people attend, which isn't surprising as Ryan has told her to 'write something as interesting as you are.' The performance clashed with a photo shoot for his band so Ryan didn't make it, which is a deal breaker and she goes home to Middle of Nowhere Land to give up on her dreams. But, a casting director was at her play and really liked it and phones Ryan to ask Emma to audition for a thing in Paris. He goes to find her (by parking in suburban streets and blaring his horn) and passes on the message - she has a needy, whiny 'I'm not good enough' moment, but he is all supportive and they drive back to Hollywood to Make It Happen.

Self referential audition 'song' about how hard it is to be an actor
At the audition she is asked to tell a story and, displaying a gross ineptitude at following directions, she sings a song instead - perhaps the film has suddenly remembered it is meant to be a musical? Of course she gets the part because this is all unbelievable nonsense. Fast forward five years and she is a big star, married to Someone Else, and buying her coffee from the cafe where she used to work.

Emma and Someone Else go out to dinner and stumble into a basement bar which would you Adam and Eve it, of all the jazz joints, in all the towns, of all the world... Ryan is also living his dream and their eyes meet and there is a dance number montage of how life could have been if they had stayed together. If only the whole film had been like this without the tedious bits in the middle, it would have been quite good.  But it wasn't. And it isn't. The End.

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