The main thing that a documentary that profiles someone in this way has to achieve is making you care about its subject, even if you’re not a huge fan of their work or familiar with them at all. It’s a hard task, especially if you want to delve in to the nitty gritty of what makes them tick, but there are many avenues music documentaries choose to go down in order to make that connection with the audience. Films like 2013’s Mistaken For Strangers or 2014’s 20,000 Days on Earth took unique perspectives on their subjects and did them very well, but in this case, directors Rob Alexander and Steve Read let the pictures do the talking, not seeking to form a strong narrative of any kind, but merely structuring the film around an upcoming event and documenting what goes on in the process.
The subject, of course, is Gary Numan. A famous figure in music, Numan was well known for saying very little outside of his songs. He was often criticised for being inaccessible, unfairly so for a musician happy to let the music do the talking, but frustrating for those who wanted to know the person behind the makeup and robotic dance moves. Here, we get Numan talking candidly about his career, and a glimpse in to his life with his wife, Gemma, and three daughters that would have seemed inconceivable in the past.
While the film ostensibly documents Numan putting together his most recent album, 2013’s Splinter and the family’s move to LA (the La La Land of the title), the way it’s shot makes it more about his life as a whole, and how he juxtaposes his busy family life with a music career that he is so desperate to revive. Both him and his wife are unafraid and perfectly willing to talk about their difficulties, as Numan talks about his struggles with recapturing his old spark and Gemma discusses how those struggles affect her and the family as a whole, along with how other things have provided an added sense of stress. Those discussions are really what makes the film as interesting as it is.
The more personal edge prevents the film from becoming a kind of album log as Numan moves through the process, grounding him and giving an added weight to his musical journey. We’re taken through his early years, the rise to prominence and all that came with it, together with all the trials and tribulations that brought him to the current moment, without being made to feel separate from the man himself. Numan is always happy to give the film an intimate edge with personal thoughts on every aspect of how things have worked out for him. All this while inviting us along to get a taste of what a holiday across America in a camper van is like with the Numan family, with predictably amusing results.
Android in La La Land isn’t a loud film that shouts about Numan from the rooftops. It doesn’t bring in various music critics to gush about how he’s the best thing to happen to music since Beethoven, and it’s all the better for it. We get to spend time with an interesting character who sheds his persona and offers us a glimpse at the complicated human behind the veil. That’s what makes it an enjoyable watch, and an accessible film even if you haven’t heard of Numan at all. That being said, if you haven’t heard ‘Cars’, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the past 40 years. Just saying.