(September 19, 2016 – Toronto, ON) It’s an odd choice, in our opinion. Not the wrong choice and certainly La La Land is deserving of this honour, but it still strikes most of us around here as, simply, odd. In a way it’s a direct line for the career of costar Ryan Gosling. And, in some ways it is anything but. He started his acting career as one of the squeaky clean cast members of The Mickey Mouse Club. His first feature saw him take a small role as a high school football player. But then, just one year later his career took a serious turn in Henry Bean’s The Believer where he played a young Jew who becomes a neo-Nazi skinhead. As contributor Catherine Solmes writes about that film in her biography of the actor, “Portraying a character most people would consider inhuman and completely unsympathetic can make or break the career of a struggling young actor. His performance was described as ‘riveting,’ ‘feral,’ ‘impressive’ and ‘terrifying,’ ‘enigmatic,’ ‘scarily convincing,’ ‘passionate’ and ‘fierce.’ In 2002, he was nominated for Best Male Lead at the Independent Spirit Awards.”
He has mostly played nice but there have been the odd shifts — there’s that word again — which have allowed him to show signs of a much deeper character behind the characters he has played. The drug addicted inner city school teacher in Half Nelson; his sexually frank portrayal in Blue Valentine; the risky motorcycle scenes in The Place Beyond the Pines; the bent, idealistic and creepy political staffer in the Ides of March. All of them, and many others, are anything but light entertainment. By the way, as if announcing his arrival as an actor with some box office heft, Ryan Gosling got top billing in Ides of March, his name appearing before costars George Clooney and Philip Seymour Hoffman on posters.
If you haven’t seen La La Land during its festival run, the film, distributed in Canada by Entertainment One, opens on December 9th and you can check out the trailer on Ryan Gosling’s page. The plot sees Gosling as a jazz pianist named Sebastian who falls in love with Mia (Emma Stone). It’s a musical set in Los Angeles that has many of the hallmarks of those classic dance films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers or maybe Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain. Clearly a nod to classic movie musicals, this throwback comes at a time when US politics is being fought between a candidate who seems perfectly capable of seeing the future and another who promises some sort of a return to some gloriously imagined and fully distorted past.
Which makes the choice of this film odd to us. This is a very American film playing in a very Canadian city at a very scary time and it makes us wonder if the people who voted for La La Land did so out of some desire to escape the perceived awfulness of the world we live in at this particular moment. Was the vote somehow influenced by the glaring light of this year’s politics far beyond the comfort of a darkened cinema?
The People’s Choice Award carries some weight, but a lot of that is an accident of coincidence. In the past it has been seen as a harbinger of which films go on to do well at the Oscars®. The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire and 12 Years a Slave all took TIFF’s People’s Choice award and were months later chosen best picture at the Academy Awards. No one mentions the years when one has had nothing to do with other. We are hoping La La Land’s win in Toronto is nothing more than a similar kind of accidental coincidence.
Without exaggeration the outcome of the Presidential election south of the border is also a People’s Choice event. Maybe with La La Land it was just a bunch of Canadians voting for a fellow Canadian. Maybe in a scary time it is an anchor to some vestigial yearning for a simpler, happier time. Maybe it provides what all movies are supposed to provide: some form of escapism. But this time, that escapism just might be a sign of things to come. Which, given reality and the seriousness of the times we live in, strikes us as understandable but perfectly… odd.