Back in 1975 I left my country bumpkin life for the bright lights of Bristol. So many experiences but exposure to new foods was high on the list. I’d never had a curry, eaten pineapple soaked in MSG or realised there was more to pasta than spaghetti from a tin. One new experience that really stands out was an American hamburger diner in Clifton called Careys. It offered the classic burger in the bun with onion relish, the thick milkshakes, skinny fries, ice cream in flavours other than vanilla, chocolate or strawberry and, glory be, the American Cheesecake.
I thought the cheesecake the height of sophistication: light, sweet and tangy, with the crunch underneath. I was sure I would never ever reach the point where it felt ordinary.
Now the likes of Pizza Express has commoditised cheesecake and it makes me sad to think these are merely pastiches of that original, glorious, frivolous experience. So I pass them by. Mostly. But once in a while, I see it on the menu and those happy days of being 18 again trick me into ordering the thick white slab. And the first moment, that first taste is great. But then there’s the remainder and it disappoints. It’s not bad, just ordinary. I don’t mind it, I’m not against it but I’m not going to remember it like that first time.
La La Land is cinematic cheesecake. The opening nonsense on the freeway, the introductions to the two main characters are well done. The theme tune a foot tappy number. But it isn’t long before I was thinking about Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, Ginger Rodgers and Cyd Charisse. Sure even they were before my time but wet Saturdays meant black and white movies on TV and I saw them all, the Busby Berkeley extravaganzas too. I suppose this is a homage to those iconic movies and as homages go, it is well done.
So where’s the problem? Well Ryan Gosling for one. Isn’t he cardboard? I mean where’s the animation. Does he ever open his mouth to speak? It’s a bit like watching a magazine cover act. Emma Stone is better – she’s a far better singer and dancer than Gosling too – but even she acts better in her character’s auditions than in the movie. If there was an Oscar for best lip animation she’d get my vote – they’re like watching hairless meerkats at play but otherwise even her happy faces look a trifle lachrymose for me.
I enjoyed myself, don’t get me wrong; it was easy to get from beginning to end without feeling the need to eat my own spleen. The scene where they sit at the piano together is excellent; Gosling is a wonderful pianist and the jazz scenes do make the movie (though is it only me who wondered why it has to be a white guy who ‘saves’ jazz when pretty much everyone else involved in the fictional jazz scenes hereabouts is black?). These pluses are offset against the errant nonsense of the observatory dance and the tedious cliche of the coffee bar.
It’s escapist; it’s fun; it’s got no surprises; it’s bland; and it says more about the dearth of decent movies that it is is up for so many awards than any intrinsic merit on its part.
The salted caramel ice cream was good. And the young woman behind me stopped texting just in time for me not to reboot her phone somewhere tender. Why is hell other people? Because it is!