It's a great movie in general; well composed, brilliantly shot, and great performances by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It's sweet without being cloying, not entirely predictable, they don't harp on the angsty notes for too long, and the humour is genuinely well done. It may be the most approachable and genuine musical I've ever seen, despite being an homage, but it wasn't my favourite part of the evening.
Before the movie, they played the trailer to The Shack, an adaptation of a religious novel (which is actually quite good) that centers around a man questioning not only his faith but his Maker after his daughter is abducted and killed; heavy stuff, especially for squishy parents like myself.
Immediately afterwards they played the animated Cineplex promo where the dad buys his kid some sort of a movie-balloon, which deflates before they can watch it. As he picks it up off the floor he finds a box under his son's bed labelled "Me and Dad", filled with similarly shriveled balloons.
I'd already been having a tiring and somewhat melancholy day. I was thinking about my dad a lot, and I couldn't tell you precisely why. I don't miss him any less today than when he passed five years ago, but he showed up in my thoughts several times; randomly, unbidden, saddening but strangely welcome at the same time.
Dad liked movies in a different way than I do; he couldn't tell you the names of writers or directors, but there were scenes he would reference throughout his life that clearly resonated with him. Somehow a writer and a director and an actor (and a cinematographer and a composer and a light rigger) had captured on a piece of celluloid that depicted, in his eyes at least, The Way Things Oughtta Be.
Usually it would be John Wayne, whether putting the reins in his teeth and telling Robert Duvall to fill his hands in True Grit, or nodding solemnly after Ron Howard throws his pistol away at the end of The Shootist.
Coming home from work the airport late one night just before going to university, I came across him watching an old heist movie, where the mastermind had gathered a handful of disparate individuals together because each of them had the requisite tools or skills to ambush an armored car on its way to L.A. from Vegas: an elephant gun to shoot out the bulletproof tire, a torch to cut it open, a place to hide it under the desert sands. It's a ludicrous little film, but I stayed up with him until three a.m. to see how it played out, watching the tensions and suspicions grow until greed turned all the collaborators against each other. Turning off the tv before heading off to bed, Dad nodded solemnly and pronounced that, "'Honor amongst thieves' is still the biggest con ever played, I figure."
Maybe that's why I look for a lesson in every movie, even the bad ones. We learn how to do things from our parents, it stands to reason this would extend even to watching movies, wouldn't it?
Watching La La Land with my eldest daughter, already awash in memory and sentiment, put me in a strange frame of mind. I wondered how much of what we were seeing was the same and how much was different. The "Filmed in Cinemascope" card that opens the film wouldn't have a lot of significance for her, nor the Technicolor look they gave all the primary colours; she's not old enough to have that sort of nostalgia.
Later in the film, after referencing Rebel Without a Cause, Gosling and Stone end up at Griffiths Park Observatory. I wondered if Fenya remembered it from the climactic scene in Bowfinger, another ludicrous little movie, but one I love, and which I had shown to her and Glory just last year.
I leaned over to point out the location to her, but before I could say a word, she whispered Eddie Murphy's key line from the scene: "Gotcha suckas!"
Flabbergasted and delighted, I leaned back in my seat, laughing softly. I don't know that I had ever experienced such a moment of crystal clear sympatico, a referential "Jinx!" of such tenuous provenance. I took off my glasses to brush away tears, mostly from laughing.
I shook my head to clear it and refocused on Gosling and Stone, but an hour later, the feeling remains, a bittersweet but satisfying sensation of connection that delights me in the presence of my offspring while lamenting the absence of my father.
It's good to be got.