It is somehow perfectly appropriate that La La Land should have lost out on the Oscar for best picture at last night’s ceremony, giving the proceedings a surprise ending and leaving this viewer asking “is that how it ends?” and wondering whether what happened on screen really just happened.
Just as in La La Land, the ending seemed wrong. At the Oscars, Warren Beatty (ever the gent) handed the card to Faye Dunaway when it looked as though he realised something was awry. She read out La La Land as the winner but it was the wrong card. There then ensued several minutes of chaos, in which it became clear that Moonlight was the real winner.
In the final scene of La La Land in the nightclub it ends on a discordant and unsettling note when… well, I’m not going to tell you, in case you have been so neglectful as to have not seen the film. In that case, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Sometimes all the hype has it right. And this is one such film that merits all the attention.
In the coverage pre-Oscars there was a tendency in certain quarters to dismiss La La Land as merely a series of good song and dance routines strung together, as though it was fundamentally unserious compared to its rival films. That was the tone in the BBC News coverage, which presented it as flight of fancy and light-headed pure entertainment up against big, socially and politically important films with challenging themes and grave messages about the human condition.
This is an odd way to view it, like regarding Waugh’s Brideshead or Sword of Honour trilogy as unserious because they contain lots of scenes of affluent and rich people getting drunk and gossiping.
Far from being slight, La La Land does something similar to Waugh at his best, although the Americans in the movie are far more sympathetic characters than he would ever allow. Its beauty, beyond the cinematography and chemistry between the main players, is that it sucks you in to one feelgood film – the sunshine and stars of LA – and delivers several sucker punches when it turns into a quite different film.
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Unserious? It is about the oddities of attraction. It is about ambition coming at a cost. It is an examination of confidence, and how it is a gift that can be passed on by a loved one. It is about the importance of place, and the question of whether ending up back where you started, in this case in that nightclub, counts as failure or success. Or whether shooting for the stars and getting there is worth it. Most of all, La La Land is about love and lost opportunity. Not much is more serious than that.