Tuesday, February 14, 2017

La La Land

I went with a friend to watch La La Land and when the film ended and the lights came up, I looked over at her to see that she was crying. I was about to laugh at her when I heard sniffles on my left: the woman next to me was crying too. I looked down the row - about every two seats there were feminine tears being dabbed away, while the men merely looked blank - or at their phones.

"Why are you crying?" I asked my friend.

She, incredulously: "It was an unhappy ending! They didn't stay together!"

Well, yeah.

It was beautiful to look at, it was charming and moving and clever in parts. I enjoyed it. But if I were going to shed tears it wouldn't have been about the failed romance, it would have been if one of them hadn't made it. As it was, Ryan Gosling got his bar and Emma Stone got her career - a happy enough ending all round, in my books. (Although honestly, I didn't buy her having a baby so damn fast.) A far more realistic version would have had one, or both, of them packing up to go home and take a job in an insurance office.

But then, I watched it from a different perspective. I think very few people in that cinema know what it's like to still be trying to make it, to lead the terribly lonely life of a creative type - to lie awake at night questioning your life decisions, worrying about money and retirement and the future, to fend off well-meaning relatives and their raised eyebrows - "Are you still... - ?" To watch peers with more resources, or freedom, go abroad to succeed, win grants and residencies and publication contracts. And to live like this in Singapore, where to be creative is already to be a stranger to 95 per cent of the population - the kind of stranger parents warn their children about becoming: "Don't be stupid and become artist ah, better go study accountancy..." You think it's a comedy stereotype? I teach their children. I hear what their parents say, sometimes first-hand.

Here is my romance: I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I would quit my job and sit in front of my laptop and stay awake long into the waning night counting my worries like rosary beads without thinking twice. I would write and delete six, seven, eight drafts and keep going. I'd bite my tongue every time a relative asked if I was "still" teaching tuition, every time an old teacher I bumped into said - with a genuine note of sadness in their voice - "Oh, but you had so much potential..."

This is love, isn't it? Maybe not the obvious kind, the one that made the audience cry. This is the pursuit of the unknown, a floating ideal that's always just around the corner - a whisper travelling through the air that no one else hears: don't give up on me. It could still happen. Please let it happen.

I didn't cry at La La Land, but I'll wager that I'm a bigger, more foolish romantic than anyone else there that night at the cinema.