Have you ever seen a movie with a climactic moment so perfectly thrilling, so explosive in its joyous energy, so precisely timed for maximum emotional release, that the rest of the thing almost doesn’t even matter? If you haven’t, I’m sorry, because it’s just the best feeling in the world when a movie gets it exactly right. Might I recommend one?
Linda Linda Linda ends with a flawless final performance that just radiates happiness, but for most of its runtime, it’s remarkably sedate. Director Nobuhiro Yamashita is what I’ve called a “tableau director;” his camera rarely moves, and he’s adept at crafting images awash in lived-in detail and naturalistic blocking. There’s a stillness to much of Linda Linda Linda that belies its punk rock core. It has a more laid-back energy than I expected from a film about a high school rock band.
I appreciated the film for taking that swing, though. This is not a familiarly riotous, rollicking take on this material. It’s quiet, it’s relaxed, it’s placid. The film is singularly focused on the world of the four central characters. Every shot fills in the details of that world a little more. The film takes its time doing this, but it’s so frequently beautiful that the pacing rarely matters.
In any case, the draw here is the characters. The four band members — guitarist Kei, bassist Nozomi, drummer Kyoko, and new lead vocalist Son — are tremendously charismatic, and they have great chemistry. When Son, a foreign exchange student from Korea played by a young Doona Bae (!), blows off a boy who’s been crushing on her because she’d rather be with her friends, I was grinning ear to ear. Linda Linda Linda is a film about how great it feels to have friends who love you as much as you love them.
Yamashita frames the girls in such a way that you feel how close their bond is. He likes to bunch them together in the frame, all of them leaning on each other. When one of the girls is out on her own, Yamashita isolates her in negative space, or alternately crushes her with clutter. The girls are always depicted visually as a single unit. Even spaced out on stage at the end, there’s a symmetry to their positioning that only enhances their connection. It’s a clever bit of visual storytelling from a rather understated director.
And yeah, that final scene. I would put a Youtube link here, but I really think it works best in context with the rest of the film. It needs to be built up to for the impact of its release to have any punch. That said, I’ll definitely be revisiting it whenever I’m feeling down. Watching Son cheerfully scream into the mic as her classmates go wild is like staring into the sun. It just radiates happiness. Linda Linda Linda’s performance finale goes in the great movie endings pantheon. I’ve seen few things that match it for sheer intoxicating joy.