Sam Strange Remembers: LA LA LAND

Jazz. Fucking jazz.

Filmmakers tell you they make movies to entertain people. That’s true most times. But it’s also kind of a lie. Sometimes, you just want to make something insufferable to keep emotions fresh. I don’t know why; it’s fun to be an asshole. Fuck you. See?

I pride myself on an ability to do this. Or I did. It turns out I may have overestimated my abilities this time, because I’m the guy who made La La Land. I’d fall on my sword, except I consider this your fault. I got those Hidden Figures ladies to make this movie as mathematically obnoxious as possible, and yet you still all fell in love with it.

La La Land is about a child actor named Ryan Gosling and the romance that blossoms between him and Emma Stone, a girl whose dream is to someday also be a child actor. It’s going to be a tough climb for her because her eyes just aren’t big enough. So she’s going to have to rely on talent. As for Gosling, his eyes stopped growing before puberty while his noggin kept getting more and more grown-up-sized. So he’s all done with the acting game. He once checked out and didn’t read a book about the Harlem Renaissance, so he’s into jazz now.

Gosling has a job playing Christmas carols at a fine dining establishment. But it really hurts his soul because his spirit yearns to jazz it up a little. Whenever he tries to sneak some licks in there, his boss threatens to give his job to one of the many homeless dudes in the alley who play better than him but lack those black and white shoes we used to make fun of just a couple years ago.

As for Stone, she spends her days going to auditions and serving coffee to established child stars who are on their way out. She also lives with a handful of competitive, spiteful roommates. Their cycles are in sync and not a single one isn’t pissed off about it. She sings about it while brushing her teeth and gargling mouthwash.

Gosling and Stone cross paths in a major LA traffic jam. This is one of those things they never tell you about LA. The traffic sucks. Motherfuckers are always jumping out of their cars to dance. They don’t have this problem in Oklahoma City.

The two sneer at each other but nothing comes of it because it’s a big group song. Then, one day Emma Stone hears Gosling play piano at the restaurant she’s visiting to steal toilet paper. The way he plays "Jingle Bell Rock" without coloring outside the lines really speaks to her and the two shoulder-check each other while walking in other directions. They act like it’s no big deal, but later Gosling sings about it while getting a root canal.

Days go by. Stone smells hotdogs and follows the scent to a six year old's birthday party. Sure enough, there he is, playing keytar in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cover band. He is Michelangelo. The gig hurts his jazz pride, but in a small act of rebellion he wears a temporary tattoo of Kenny G on his bicep.

All these meetings must mean something, so Stone corners Gosling to see if they break into song. They don’t, because it’s a kid’s birthday party and that would be inappropriate. Just too much going on. But later when they try to leave, they totally take huge bites of Laffy Taffy and break into a charming number about how much they hate each other.

So now, by law of musicals, they are a couple. Which puts both of them in a tight spot because it’s easy to look cute when you’re a former/future child actor, but at some point you actually have to give up your darkest, dirtiest secrets. He goes first: “I’m into jazz.” She goes second: “I’m going to star in my own one-man show.”

He’s disgusted because he knows what a one-man show is. She’s not yet disgusted because she doesn’t know what jazz is. This huge red flag makes him cut and run, but the two break into song and float in the air toward each other. So he’s stuck. Accepting that, he demands she listen to him loudly explain jazz while sitting right in front of an accomplished jazz musician at one of LA’s many jazz clubs. Four hours later she asks “What is your one big dream?” and his answer is totally ready: “To own LA’s first jazz club.” She replies “But you just took me to an LA jazz club.” He sighs, because she just doesn’t get it. “I mean a REAL jazz club. One that gets to the soul of the music and is in a neighborhood where regular, everyday people can feel comfortable.”

They move in together. Gosling keeps playing jazz while Stone works harder and harder on her one-man show, which she’s decided will be an unofficial adaptation of I Am Malala. Money is tight, but things look up when Gosling gets a gig as the guy who actually plays piano backstage while Stevie Wonder just pretends.

What should be their salad days, however, begins to sour when Stone realizes that Gosling is no longer lecturing her on jazz and offers to buy her a bunch of those big black one-man show squares. He’s just not the same Gosling anymore. And the musical numbers that used to bind them against their will have all dried up. They’re just a regular, boring couple now, which means neither of them can have cool future biographies without skipping over this part of their lives.

And to make matters worse, he misses her one-man show because Gosling hears Miles Davis’ son is going to visit Stevie Wonders’ recording studio, and he simply cannot pass up an opportunity to tell him Bitches Brew is overrated.

So they break up. And Emma Stone moves back home to Hazzard County. But just as she leaves, Gosling learns that she got a big audition. Guilty for missing her show, but also unable to find her, Gosling puts on some clothes she left behind and does the audition on her behalf. And he wins her the part! This leads to more parts. And more. Before you know it, Gosling as Emma Stone is a stone-cold star.

Meanwhile, Stone realizes that LA still needs its first ever jazz bar, so she kills her ailing parents, takes the insurance money and opens one right on the Warner Bros. backlot. She plays piano there every night. She doesn’t know what she’s doing, but it’s jazz, so

Years later, Gosling and his husband get a babysitter for their child and go visit this crazy jazz place everyone in their Wine n’ Books group keeps talking about. And sure enough, there she is, pretending to play jazz on the piano. And there he is, pretending to be her. The two lock eyes and envision a life where they actually stayed together and had an army of genetically superior children too altruistic and chill to take over the world and make it a better place. It’s a touching moment, and they anticipate a song that will re-bind them forever. But instead Islamic extremists blow up the bar and everyone dies.

(three stars)

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