Warning: this post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
I hadn’t originally wanted to write about this film. Or at least not publicly. I was so shaken up after watching it that I didn’t think I would ever be able to write a coherent critique. But slowly overtime I’ve managed to organise my thoughts a bit and I’m hoping writing them down will help me solidify them.
My initial reaction was one of surprise and utter heartbreak. Surprised that I had watched a musical and not instantly loved it. And heartbreak not just for the love lost between the main couple, but for the fragility of such intense love and its inability to last. I know we are all too used to watching and reading about an unrealistic, wholly idealistic love that conquers all, but to see a more shatteringly honest depiction, portrayed in such a beautiful way, completely shook me to the core. Worse still, was this overwhelming need to cry that I felt in response and yet I just couldn’t. A rare occurrence for me whose waterworks are usually hypersensitive.
The film itself really was beautifully made. From the choreography, to the costumes, to the music, everything was so… vivid. Rarely, if ever, have I seen a film that fully captures the spirit and feel of an onstage musical. While the singing was relatively weak for what you’d expect from a musical, it only added to the charm and vulnerability of the main characters. There is a moment in Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s City of Stars duet where the couple break into giggles at a wrongly placed note; scripted or not scripted, it is small nuances like that that make you invested in the their relationship. And Emma Stone’s Fools Who Dream was the crescendo I had been waiting for from the start and will forever send chills down my spine.
As a visual piece of art the film was flawless. But I found the themes it dealt with initially troubling. Not least because I have never been one to empathise with the concept of chasing your dreams. Am I allowed to admit that I’ve never had life-altering aspirations? More like modest goals. So the conflict between chasing dreams and supporting the one you love failed to properly resonate with me. More than that though, the film works so hard to set up the ultimate clichéd romance so typical of musicals, before quickly destroying it with a traumatic five years later and an extensive what could have been montage that is agonising torture. Yet we are then asked to trust in the dreams of yet another aspiring actress and musician, and believe that if they hope and dream enough anyone can become a world-renowned actress or own their own successful club. As if dreaming is so much more rewarding than loving.
Or at least that was my initial reaction. But on further reflection I have started to see another side to the ending. The what could have been montage, for example, rather than being a taunting jeer at what could never happen, could simply have been an alternate reality that was just as more or less likely to be the outcome. The idea being that dreams can come true, that love can last but also sometimes they can’t and don’t. Now that theory I like. In fact, therein lies the beauty of the film. For once we are not given a clearcut happy ending that we must force ourselves to believe. Instead, we are given a realm of possibilities, our responses to which will more than likely change based on the changes in our own values and experiences. While I don’t think my heart is ready for another viewing any time soon, I’m curious to see how my response to the film will adapt in a few years time.
There is so much discussion surrounding this film at the moment and that’s only going to increase as the Oscars approach. Really interested in other people’s experience of the film that everyone is talking about. Feel free to leave a comment!