(WARNING: This post contains mild spoilers for La La Land)
In the middle of January, Damien Chazelle's La La Land opened in cinemas in the UK, and like many other eager beavers, I went straight to see it. After thoroughly enjoying Chazelle's 2014 debut Whiplash — an almost-thriller centered entirely around jazz drumming — and the critical buzz that was building around La La Land, the usual skepticism I would feel on hearing the word "musical" was quashed. I left the cinema feeling like I'd seen something fresh and different, something that paradoxically seemed simultaneously uplifting and dispiriting.
What struck me most while watching the film was that paradoxical feeling and the parts of the story that made me feel each way. It's almost as if it was trying to be the perfect Hollywood romance while knowing that that could never exist.
Postmodernism And Metamodernism
Metamodernism is the name for the movement that has possibly come after postmodernism. Postmodernism is characterized by irony, self-referentiality, and cynicism. Perfect examples are shows like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, with the gang's never-ending narcissistic exploits without any feeling or sincerity (e.g. the insistent of not dealing with Frank being Charlie's father), and movies like American Psycho, a film that destroys grand concepts like truth using black humor but ending in nihilism. Nothing learned and nothing sincere.
Metamodernism calls back to the sentimentality and sincerity from before postmodernism, but keeps the lessons learned from postmodernism (e.g. the destruction of meta-narratives). Metamodernism often speaks with the language of postmodernism — irony, self referencing, cynicism — but what is said is sincere and affecting. Oscillation is also a defining factor of metamodernism — think of every time you've seen something on the internet that would appear truthful and reputable, only to see the exact opposite of that thing a few minutes later.
Examples Of Metamodernism
Examples of metamodernism are everywhere in current pop culture: Louie, Parks and Recreation, Bojack Horseman, Easy, The Lego Movie, the list goes on. Rick and Morty is a great example. You would almost certainly assume at first glance that it is a fairly postmodernist show, full of cynicism and many of the stylistic factors we've come to know from postmodernism. However, the sincerity (and therefore the feels) develop quickly in a way that a postmodern show — for instance, Arrested Development — would never accomplish.
Metamodernism In 'La La Land'
La La Land is a perfect example of the feeling of metamodernism. It finely dances (tap-dances) the line between cheesy and genius, either side of that line is the sincerity and cynicism (and the oscillation between the two) that defines metamodernism. It wants to have the naivety and sincerity of the earlier time it idolizes, but the lessons are learned. It has optimism but with the knowledge of postmodernism. It also features many of the typical aspects of postmodernism: genre-mixing, referencing other movies, self awareness, and the destruction of meta-narratives.
A good example of metamodernism is fairly near the beginning of the movie. We have had the two main characters' days shown to us from their own perspectives leading to the scene where Stone's character hears Gosling's character playing the piano from outside a bar. Cue the most perfect meeting you ever did see. However, as she begins to gush to him about his piano playing he shoulder barges her and walks out. Flawless.
Even the struggle both the characters go through in relation to their idealistic dreams of what they want to do and the realistic challenges of everyday life can be seen through the same lens. They are constantly caught between these challenges, and in the end when Mia leaves for Paris the story opts for something between optimism and realism.
The ending is bittersweet. They're both successful and Mia is happily married with a child. She's back in LA and heading out for dinner with her husband when she's pulled into a bar by the sound of jazz, just like when she first met Sebastian. Of all the gin joints in all the world, she has stumbled in to his. Seb then plays the song that drew here into that first bar and we get a devastating dream sequence of their relationship working perfectly, à la 25th Hour. Before she leaves they smile at each other.
In the end La La Land shows that just because we don't have the perfect happy ending, it doesn't mean we can't be happy. We're not naive, but we're still optimistic.
I don't actually really know anything about Metamodernism, but these guys do:
- What is Metamodernism? (Philosophers Robin van den Akker and Timotheus Vermeulen talk about their concept of metamodernism on Youtube)
What did you think of La La Land?