Last weekend, Lady Barton St Mary suggested that we should go to the pictures.
“I’d like to see La La Land, but you wouldn’t go and see that, would you?” she said.
I’m not a fan of musicals. Actually, that’s not true, I’m not even a fan, I can’t stand musicals. I’m at a loss as to why anybody would want to watch actors trying to be singers, or vice versa, suddenly bursting into song for no reason whatsoever in the middle of a scene. I always think it would be much better if you just said what you wanted to say. Even worse are the stage productions involving the songs of well known turns such as Queen, Michael Jackson or (good grief) Take That. Precocious actors destroying songs in nonsensically contrived story plots.
I was once forced to sit through the film ‘Mamma Mia’, where James Bond inexplicably wailed out an Abba song like an injured camel in labour. An awful, terrible film that somehow captured the hearts of otherwise sane people, mainly female. By the end I was ready to self-harm. A short time after my ordeal, a male colleague related a terrible story about having to go to the pictures with his wife to experience this drivel; to compound his anguish, he could hear the rumblings from the screen next door showing The Dark Knight.
So. There we have it. I hate musicals.
I looked at Lady Barton St Mary, her beautiful face unable to hide the expression of disappointment.
“We could go and see this gangster film starring Ben Affleck,” she suggested.
I considered for a moment, then decided that sometimes, love does overcome everything.
“No,” I stated firmly, “let’s go and see La La Land.”
Her big blue eyes widened.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
I wasn’t, but perhaps it was time to embrace change, try something again and see if I’d been wrong.
“Let’s go and see La La Land,” I said.
Settling into our seats, the opening credits widened into bright technicolor (sic), just like the old musical films of the 1940s and 1950s, followed by the opening scene of a huge traffic jam on the highways of Los Angeles. A girl starts singing, then gets out of her vehicle to dance. Encouraged by this behaviour, other motorists join in. Soon, there are actors singing and dancing all over the road, with high kicks and head flicks worthy of Louis Spence.
‘Oh no,’ I thought, ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake, this is another case of Mamma Mia Syndrome, please get me out of here.’
Lady Barton St Mary was watching me warily through the gloom. I kept a neutral expression and continued to stare at the screen, wondering if I could have a nap for a couple of hours until the ordeal had finished.
However, after the pretentious, teeth and tits, look at me, cheesy dance routine, we were treated to a proper story. With an entertaining plot, that moved at a reasonable pace and was well constructed. I was interested.
Then another musical scene, a song and dance, but not shoe horned into the film for no reason. I was transported back to my childhood, when these sort of films were shown on a Saturday afternoon or during bank holidays, with Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly or Donald O’Connor hoofing it across the screen. I realised I hadn’t thought ill of these musical films as a child, they were the fabric of Hollywood and weekend television viewing.
What’s more, John Legend pops up with a musical contribution of his own, which was rather good. Yes, John was a musician acting, but the part he was playing was that of a musician, with the only difficult part for him being called ‘Keith’ instead of John.
I was interested in the characters; there were some great musical scenes, the ones where you wished you could play the piano. Yes, there were the odd moment when I felt they could have said something rather than sing it, but realised that the significant twists in the tale were punctuated by song, like iambic pentameter in Shakespeare (ooo get me).
I won’t spoil the ending for you. I thought the film was well written, visually beautiful and encapsulating. A real feel good film for the post truth era. Better than the plethora of comic book, two hour, no plot, fight fests that are spat out month after month.
The lights came up and Lady Barton St Mary gazed at me with watery eyes (it’s an emotional film, too).
“I absolutely loved it,” I said, “thanks for choosing it.”
I explained to my colleagues at (almost) voluntary work how much I’d enjoyed it, even though I dislike musicals.
“Well, I love musicals,” said one, “but I couldn’t stand La La Land.”
Perhaps La La Land is a musical for those people who hate musicals. Go and see it.