I was about a month late to the La La Land party. When it came out in early December 2016, I knew nothing about the film, except that it was some sort of technicolor spectacle starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. (My little brother happened upon their Red Carpet premiere in Paris and sent me a picture; they are seriously gorgeous people.)
I’ll get around to seeing it eventually, I noted.
And then one day in January, I scrolled down my facebook newsfeed to see a 60 second preview for the movie: the scene in which characters Mia and Sebastian (those names!) tap dance in Griffith Park during LA’s golden hour. Swoon. A friend and I had dinner plans that evening but I was tempted to change course. I texted her: “just throwing this out there… we could see la la land tonight…”
She obliged. A couple hours later, I sat in the plush theater seat with a jar of White Chocolate Wonderful peanut butter and a spoon (hey, everyone has their movie habit) as the opening, overly-cheery scene “Another Day of Sun” rolled by. By the time the film’s name flashed across the screen at the end of the first number, I knew I had a decision to make. Was I all in? Was I going to do this? Was I going to let myself get lost in this whimsical storytale? La La Land was just what I needed. I hushed any question of doubt because deep down, I loved what was happening.
The days following La La Land were filled with lingering musings. I was struck by the beauty of the storytelling and the tension of the ending. I also felt an unusual boost of creativity. La La Land is the kind of film that you don’t just watch and move on. I wanted to feel La La Land over and over. I almost immediately downloaded the soundtrack on spotify so that I could continually relive the experience. I wrote poetry that week. I took the dog for a walk without headphones, doing my best to take in the beautiful surroundings in a focused way. I clumsily strummed on the guitar. I tried my best hand at watercoloring.
As a part of my (I’ll just call it what it is) obsession, I also feverishly read reviews and interpretations of the film and its reflection of our current society. This is when I discovered the wide-spread assertion that La La Land was merely a form of ‘escapism’; overblown and overhyped, and just what the collective “we” deserved. (here, here, and here)
I had to think about that one for a bit.
So many things that we consume are to recover from the harder parts of life; the parts that take concentrated focus and attention; the type of focus and attention that loses effectiveness after constant grind. When I watched La La Land, it was not to escape from life and never come back. It was to pause; be inspired, feel creativity rush through my body, and jump back into society with new vigor. I did not watch La La Land to run away and hide from anything.
Now, escapism in its truest form is scary stuff. Early 20th century scholar Arnold Toynbee coins escapism as a key indicator of a disintegrating society, based on his research of common themes seen in 21 once-great world civilizations. True escapism is when people in a society seek to avoid their problems [permanently] by retreating into their own worlds of distraction and entertainment. True escapism marks a period in which consciousness is permanently adrift. And I don’t think that’s what we have here.
“Escapist La La Land” is a misnomer. If anything, La La Land, because of its insistent and emotional look at the connection between desire, choices, and outcomes, made me more conscious about my individual creative pursuits and the way those fit into society.
Six months after the US premiere, and as time continues to pass, I think it is hard to tie the merits of this film to merely helping us through a dicey time in American politics. It is more stirring than just that.