After I wrote my first post of 2017, I logged off and out of reality for the afternoon. I took myself on a movie date to see La La Land. I hadn’t been to the movies since seeing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 in theaters sometime in November 2014 when I still lived in Singapore. Some people never go to the movies but for me a three-year hiatus felt akin to Rip Van Winkle waking 20 years later. See, I love movies. I love being transported to places I’ll never visit or to worlds that exist outside our laws of physics. I like glimpsing into the interior lives of people who are different but also the same as me while I eat popcorn and sip soda. I soak in the cinematic colors and landscapes caught at just the right time of day making it feel as though I too beheld the majesty of that sunrise with my own eyes.
I considered “watching movies” as a legitimate hobby because they were a passion, but as my life became full with preparing to be and becoming a mom, I stopped making time for them and most TV shows. (Game of Thrones was the only show I insisted upon watching during new motherhood.) I went from being plugged in and working at People, an entertainment and celebrity news organization, to living in Singapore without easy access to my TV shows, Netflix, HBO and Amazon. I opted to go full nesting mode and abandoned one of my favorite things.
When people say motherhood is life changing, it’s true in the most mundane to the most profound ways. I was no longer the person who tried to see as many of the award-nominated films and discuss them. I was singularly focussed on keeping this new life that I created, carried and brought into the world alive, happy and healthy. I was clueless about must-see-TV and upfronts, but I kept up with petty celebrity news because it took zero effort to consume. When I could steal a moment for myself, it was easiest to flip through my social feeds and see the latest Twitter feud headlines. I got the empty calories of Hollywood without the art.
Thus going to the movies felt like a homecoming and La La Land hit all my nostalgia pressure points. The musical is set in Los Angeles, where I lived in my 20s working at the Los Angeles Daily News and LA.com. Emma Stone’s character Mia, a girl from Boulder, Colo., moves to LA and to break into showbiz spending her 20s auditioning, getting rejected and going to Hollywood parties hoping to be seen. I was reminded of my own missed opportunities, naïveté and the friendships that grounded me. While in LA, I even had a boyfriend who like Ryan Gosling character Sebastian acted like a douche about loving jazz and wanted to convert people into jazz lovers too. Unlike Mia, however, I was not converted. I can appreciate jazz and highly recommend This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt, which I sing/read to Fei Fei, but I’d be over reaching to call myself a fan.
As far as embracing a musical, my favorite movie is Moulin Rouge! and I was charmed by La La Land’s first toe tap. It pays homage to Hollywood’s golden age and as I sat in my recliner at the theater, I remembered being 9 or 10 watching black and white movies on Turner Classic Movies channel with my sisters Kim and Huong. My first Hollywood crush was Cary Grant and I loved Seven Brides for Seven Brothers because the brothers danced on logs to impress the women they wanted to marry. Stone and Gosling gave highly likeable performances but the film was short on character development in general. It’s not perfect but La La Land provided charismatic escapism and delightful eye candy when I needed to sooth my hurting heart. (I checked my phone a few times during the movie to make sure the school didn’t call or text to say come get Fei Fei. There was no such message, but I got verklempt when I saw notifications letting me know people cared.)
Going to the movies was a small act of self-care that helped me remember parts of myself that made me cringe (my know-it-all attitude of the 20s) and other parts that made me feel whole. I reclaimed something that I loved before becoming a mom, and for that nostalgia I will not complain about paying $16 for a matinee. It did have a fancy recliner.