I haven't seen La La Land yet, but I want to. Trouble is, the word of mouth, glowing reviews and endless awards have placed it on a pedestal so high I feel the actual experience won't be able to reach it. The hype is strong with this one. But maybe there's a way to go in with a clean slate. Maybe there's a way to slay the hype monster before it can strike.
Image by Jim Cooke. Stills via Summit Entertainment.
My story actually starts with Deadpool, the Ryan Reynolds movie that came out last February. I had always been a fan of the character and was excited to see him in action, but when the movie released I didn't have time to go to the theatre. A few weeks later, when I finally was able to catch a matinee with a friend who had already seen it, I was already too late. I knew going in that everybody loved it. I knew that it was "the best superhero movie that isn't a superhero movie ever". And I knew that it was the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. The movie was fine, but when I left the theatre all I could think was, "That's it? That's what everyone was losing their minds over?" The hype monster had stolen away a movie from me, and I won't let it happen again.
La La Land has been out now for over a month now. And if I'm going to give this movie a fair shake, I need to take some precautions. After I do a little prep work, I'll see the movie, and you can read my thoughts on it below.
How I'll Shut Off My Critical Voice
I am hyper-critical and pretty good at picking things apart, but my critical voice can get out of control. For example, I love theatre — studied it in university — but I can't enjoy seeing most shows any more because I sit there and think about all the ways someone could do it better. It's an issue I can't dissolve completely, but it is something I can definitely tame in this particular instance.
First, I'm going to give this critical side of me a name so I can more easily identify those types of negative thoughts. His name is Kent, and he's a cynical arsehole that hates everything. And guess what, Kent? Your arse ain't invited. I'm seeing La La Land without you, so why don't you stay home and complain about Overwatch character balance. If I start to be too critical while I watch the movie, I'll remind him he wasn't invited. And if I start to be too critical after the movie, I'll tell Kent he doesn't know what he's talking about because he didn't see the damn thing.
Next, I'll fake it til I make it. I'm going to take a page out of film critic Roger Ebert's book and go in wanting to like it. I'm going to tell myself that I do like it. And when I'm done watching it, I'm going to ditch the "cool" notion of disliking something because everyone else likes it. "It's OK to like things that everybody else likes," I'll tell myself, "What about pizza? The Beatles? Stephen King?" If, after all that, I still feel like it wasn't good, maybe it just wasn't for me. That's OK too.
How I'll Manage My Expectations
Disappointment is the direct result of mismanaged expectations. It's important I remember that expectations almost never line up with reality. And I should be mindful of the fact that the past doesn't necessarily predict the future. Just because I didn't like the last overhyped movie I saw doesn't mean it will happen to me every time.
I also need to go into La La Land with a realistic picture of what I'm going to get out of it. So, instead of thinking, "I'm about to see a film that has been nominated for over 200 awards and already won 140 of them," I need to break down what I'm actually getting. For example, "the best burrito in the world" is really just rice, beans, some type of meat, a tortilla and maybe some salsa. It's pretty tasty no matter what. What's in the La La Land burrito? Some catchy music, interesting characters, dance routines and a little spectacle. Sounds fun.
How I'll Prime My Mind Before Viewing
A few weeks ago, my friends and I had a bad movie night. We grabbed some snacks, hunkered down on the couch and watched two not-so-great movies back to back. The first, Seventh Son, was pretty bad, but our jokes and jabs made the experience enjoyable. The second was Gods of Egypt, a movie we all expected to be equally as bad or worse. The reviews were bad, people hated it and we all thought it was going to be garbage too. But it wasn't. After wading through the sewage that is Seventh Son, Gods of Egypt was like taking a refreshing shower. Somehow we had found the bottom and could only go up from there.
I need to do the same thing with La La Land. I need a terrible movie to watch beforehand so my mental frame of reference can only be looking up, hoping for a saviour to pull me from a pit of movie refuse. But I figure it should be within the same genre of "movie musical". My pick: Grease 2. It's widely considered one of the worst movie musicals ever made. If I watch it right before I go to the theatre, La La Land will almost certainly impress me.
How I'll Prime My Environment
Photo by eflon.
I'm convinced that the tiniest things can affect an experience as a whole. A perfect meal can be slightly diminished by a wobbly table, a serene hike can be soiled by the fact your boots are giving you blisters, and going to see your favourite band can be taken down a peg when the sloppy drunk guy next to you won't stop singing along with the wrong words.
I'm not saying these things ruin your experience completely, but those quirks stick with you and ultimately enter into the mental grading process of how good an experience was. I feel the same way at the movies. Phones constantly buzzing, the theatre being too cold, people whispering, kids existing — they're all things that can downgrade a moviegoing experience in an instant. For example, I didn't like Inside Out very much because when I saw it my seat was really uncomfortable, my nacho cheese was cold, we were late and missed the previews (which is one of my favourite parts of going to the movies), I was having a pretty crappy day overall and the kid behind me was more interested in kicking my chair into oblivion than watching the movie. I've unfairly labelled Inside Out in my mind as "don't like", but really I haven't given it a fair chance. I can't run that risk for La La Land, especially when I know I'm taking on one of the biggest hype monsters ever seen in the wild.
Fortunately, priming my environment for it should be easy. I'll go to a matinee when there are fewer people around, and hopefully no kids. I'll go to the nice theatre that has the super comfy seats that recline. I'll get there extra early so I don't miss any previews or get stuck with crappy snacks. I'll turn off my phone completely. And I'll dress very warmly and comfortably. These are all things you might do already when you go to the movies, but I don't plan very well for stuff like this.
Why I'll Watch It By Myself
This is the most important part for me: I absolutely need to watch this film alone. I'm outspoken, opinionated, blunt and, honestly, kind of a jerk sometimes. I like to share my thoughts out loud, and I love to have an audience because I'm a bit of an attention hog. I know these things and I try to be aware of them as much as possible. If I see this with somebody, I won't be able to resist spouting out all of my critiques once the credits roll. In fact, knowing I'll have someone to talk to after the movie will make me keep mental notes while I watch it, instead of just enjoying it.
It would be even worse if I tried to see it with one of my friends, who have all offered to see it again with me because they liked it so much. Again, I would be looking for ways to pick it apart doubly so because it just can't be as good as you guys say it it is, dammit. And part of that is because I feel like they will be watching me and how I'll react. "Did ya see that?" "What did ya think of that bit?" "Pretty great, right?! RIGHT!?" The contrarian, egotistical side of me that values my "unique" thoughts will be forced into going against the grain. But I don't want to do that. I know these are flaws of mine, so I'll sidestep them right out of the gate.
Well, after all of that, I'd call my experiment a moderate success. Seeing La La Land was a delight. And while it isn't my favourite movie, I certainly didn't leave the theatre disappointed. The music is catchy, the dance numbers are fun and the acting is some of the best I've ever seen in a movie musical — particularly Emma Stone's performance.
Seeing it alone proved to be the most important aspect of enjoying the experience for me. I didn't have to talk about the movie immediately before or after, and I was able to stay in the moment as I watched instead of subconsciously noting things I wanted to bring up later. I occasionally had to tell Kent to go away, but he did and my critiques remain few. I still haven't talked about the movie with friends.
Priming my mind with a bad movie was also huge. It definitely lowered the bar in my mind and helped me adjust my expectations accordingly. When you go in hoping the movie will "please be better than Grease 2", La La Land blows you away.