Sunday, 15 January 2017
Over the last few weeks, in dull, dark January, I've been to see four films: A United Kingdom, Paterson, Manchester by the Sea and La La Land. In my personal opinion, I would rank them, from best to worst (as follows): Manchester by the Sea, A United Kingdom, La La Land, and then Paterson. In recent run-downs of film listings in well-known newspapers, these four films were described as: 'bleak' (Manchester), 'stirring' (United), 'joyful' (LLL) and 'Indie whimsie meets profound' (Paterson): all were given five stars. Although I don't wish to harp on too much here about how disappointing I found La La Land (very!), or how faintly ridiculous I found Paterson (particularly as someone who loves poetry), what I am in danger of doing -- just like the critics themselves -- is casting a film in a certain light and then influencing the way everyone watches it. For some reason, this tendency to apportion an adjective to a film and then stick with it, despite the fact that the film might alter its mood many times, is particularly prevalent during Oscars Season.
As English literature students, we were always told to avoid using adjectives and adverbs -- particularly ones that provide a shortcut to an argument without providing additional support. Obviously, journalists need to put forward a point of view, and they need to write in soundbites; otherwise they wouldn't be doing their job. Nevertheless, I can't help but think that such soundbites sway the way we receive and review films ourselves. We want to see La La Land as joyful, rather than (as one critic, buried far down the search engine results, described it) 'superficial': when enough people use the same term, that other voice is drowned out. It also leads to some uncomfortable moments. When my husband and I left the cinema after watching La La Land, we whispered the word 'boring' to each other, afraid that the Ryan Gosling-obsessed cinema-goers would give us a tongue-lashing. (Here's another word I can think of to describe 'The Gosling': over-rated. And here's another: average.) But in a post-truth, post-Brexit, post-Trump era, a film that comes along promising an 'intravenous shot of joy', as another critic put it, will deliver this: even if it doesn't, not really.
On the other end of the scale, to describe Manchester by the Sea as merely 'bleak' is to dismiss the complexities of moods, tone and character that are expressed and teased out throughout this wonderful film. If I had to choose one way to describe the film, it would be 'redemptive'. Yes, the story-line is unbearably sad, but there are funny moments too, and moments of kindness and deep love. We learn far more about the relationship between the characters played by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams in two scenes than we do about those played by Ryan ('The') Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land. Maybe we don't watch the second one for character development. But there isn't much else there, because there are hardly any other characters in this film. I feel churlish criticising it so much: it's obviously a well-meaning film, and I really wanted to love it. But I feel it's a film for our times: times in which we expect so little, that we're happy with any crumb of 'joy' we're given. When I want joy in future I'll take Gentlemen Prefer Blondes -- every single time.
Posted by TS at 12:26