La La No

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sometime last week, when I was roughly two whiskeys down, I found myself questioning if I've become an unbearable cynic. I was reeking of alcohol, onion rings and Mutton Seekh when this thought process was distracted by my companion's laughter. At the climax of the film, my colleague Mia, made an almost Aristotelean argument in favour of Karan Johar (and consequently Dharma Productions).

"You know, it took Karan Johar eight cinematic years and half the film (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai) for Kajol to grow her hair and look feminine. He (Chazelle) ensured Emma Stone cleared audition, made her career, found the love of her life and had her baby with him, all in five cinematic years and flat three minutes."

That's when I was sure, it's not just me. It's not only me; I'm not overthinking it.

With all due respect, I found La La Land abhorring.

If you're done gasping and questioning my intellectual capacity, let's proceed.

The problem with the attempt at musical meeting magical realism halfway is that it misses both. It doesn't succeed in doing justice to either and only allows you a cursory glance towards both. As a plot device and a recurring theme, jazz akin to instrumental music in Damien Chazelle's Whiplash as well as La La Land really doesn't stand strong. I remember watching Whiplash and being in total awe of it. Some of my extremely talented drummer friends and other instrumentalists were pissed at the film, for various reasons (none of which I shall delve into for now) but for me, the plot and the characters truly stood out. As a film, it made me think for the characters and reach out to be affected by them and their plight in the film. Maybe, it's because I was assigned a hard task master in the form of an academic advisor at the time, maybe because I was trying too hard to write well and make sense of my thesis. Or maybe, just maybe because the film was well written. It made me go back and reflect on my relationship with my teacher, as well as definitely sounded solid as a film to visit as a spectator.

La La Land is none of that. And, it shouldn't be that either.

When a film is written about with the intensity and the pace at which La La Land has been explored, promoted and spliced, it often leads people to have contrasting views. Sadly, in this case, there's been nobody who I know, who felt otherwise about the film. What is this otherwise, you ask. It's feeling for the people in the film. It's the plot. It's the pace. However, it's mostly the writing. The way this film has been written and executed, you feel nothing for anyone.

Perhaps I'm a big girl cynic which is why I feel that way. The pace at which their cinematic romance took off, I have new found admiration for Dharma Productions and their cinematic attempts (which till 2016 are still all about love and fondness). La La Land, if you've been spared the horror of watching the flick, is a romantic comedy drama film about a man who loves to say he loves jazz, yet does nothing about, till the very end. He leaves it at half-hearted attempt of a piano theme, which is nothing close to jazz. The total screentime spent by this ridiculously dapper individual, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling or His Highness Forearms if you may), talking about jazz is at least three fourth of the film. The total screentime spent by Seb playing or listening to jazz is under 5 minutes at best.

Our friend Seb, meets clumsy Mia (Emma Stone) and they hate each other at first sight. Three dance routines and the first appearance of Gosling's forearms later, they fall in love. Which is approximately at 17 minutes. This whole falling in love act, build up is too staccato even for my taste. And I watch Karan Johar's films, I read his biography. You get the point.

When Mia (the character, not my colleague) tells Seb that she hates jazz, I'm surprised (pleasantly so) at his reaction. It's very unlike a person who loves jazz to still pursue another individual who's made their opinion so vocal. I am not saying it's not possible. I mean Spielberg made a film about a dinosaur adventure park, so anything's possible. That, however, doesn't mean it's believable. Mia must have beer flavoured nipples that made Seb fall that hard in love, he overlooked the fact that she hates jazz. For the rest of the film, Mia claims she likes jazz or well tries to like it, and Seb is happily thinking about beer flavoured nipples. Or whatever the fuck he was smoking. Does it matter?

At some point in the film, both these individuals alter their ambition to accommodate their bad decisions to prevent being utter failures. They choose to "uncouple" (because who drives to Boulder City from Las Vegas to pick up their almost ex-girlfriend, confess love and then split- all in 10 minutes flat) and realize that it's for the best of their diverse professional lives. The mutual uncoupling is not because of professional lives. It's because of their unstable future. Much like the fucking narrative of the film. At the end of the fucking film, you see some very expected plot shockers and people flying in the air, in Paris and pretty much everywhere. You, however, are rooted to your seat with your fingernails clawing hard onto the cheap fabric of the theater seat, that you've paid a McDonald's large chicken meal worth of money to be at. You could be at home reading or sleeping or better still, writing. But no, you decided to spend your time watching two normal adults fly in the air and see what would have happened if they decided to be together.

I'm sounding increasingly bitter but that's not all that I took back from the film. I think La La Land is fucking amazing when it comes to seeing lighting the people. The set design and even the colour correction. Technically, it's a beautiful film to watch. My colleague and I both think, all the awards should go to the guy who designed each suit/look for Gosling's character. I was deep in love with jewel tone outfits that Stone carried with so much grace and élan, especially in the first half of the film. As a musical, if we separate the intentional referencing to jazz, it's quite delightful in parts. It's when you add everything together, especially the writing and clumsy romance between potentially strong characters. Seb let me down, but Mia was even worse. You see this woman stumbling around, to taking charge to giving up. Not even one part was done convincingly. I think of how badly the film has been written and I cringe. I have no other reaction.

As Mia (the colleague) drove me home that evening, both she and I agreed that we have new found respect for all the Bollywood films, which include multiple song and dance routines, including all of Karan Johar films. The most unrealistic point of Johar's film where Rani Mukherjee being a ghost figure and giving a thumbs up to her daughter at her husband's second marriage is still more convincing and better written than their romance in the first half. Kareena Kapoor essaying the role of hot af prostitute and later turning out to be ghost in Talaash is still more believable than a man claiming to love jazz and tolerating a woman who walked upto him and said she hates it. The cynic in me will never buy that. 

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