Like the beauty that cannot be photographed in the song “Linda Linda,” I find it hard to put into words the joy Linda Linda Linda brings me. Somewhere in the amalgamation of the awkward comedic setups, the endearing characters and bad music practice sessions is that intangible quality which makes me smile with glee throughout the film’s runtime.
The story of four high-school girls and their attempt to play a few songs by The Blue Hearts, a Japanese punk rock group, is not particularly dramatic, incredible or unusual, but it’s pure delight. After a falling out with the old lead singer, guitarist Kei Tachibana (Yuu Kashii) recruits the Korean exchange student Son (Doona Bae) to be the new lead singer, which means she’ll have to learn Japanese first.
As they practice with drummer Kyoko Yamada (Aki Maeda) and bassist Nozomi Shiroko (Shiori Sekine), the group learns they’re terrible. Besides just being a tribulation of the group not gelling and everyone being out of sync, it becomes the group’s endearing flaw that they’re awful and not afraid to laugh and have fun with how terrible they are.
Most of the fun of this film comes from how hilariously awkward the situations are. Awkwardly timed humor about off situations are difficult to execute as they can just be a step away from being uncomfortable, but the film has pitch perfect timing, knowing just how long to keep each gag going and always making sure to mock the situation and never the characters involved.
The film also smartly plays with expectations and conventions of the high-school film, especially the romances which the film doesn’t feel the need to treat as a cheap device to fulfill the female characters as accomplished. In fact, it’s to be lauded that the film finds a good balance between romantic encounters and also never pandering to girls as romantically needy creatures. After all, these are girls in a punk-rock band.
Linda Linda Linda also doesn’t bother to completely explain the rocky past of the band. There’s been a huge fallout at the beginning, but the film is more interested in focusing on the four core characters and using the outlying subplot as simply a running gag as “that event” which never gets talked about, and once it is, the film jokes that it really makes little sense.
It’s the payoff that makes the film so delightful. It’s not grandiose, swelling or epic, but simultaneously a small triumph and a moment to wonder at what the girls might have lost by being in this band. It’s this sense of balance that makes Linda Linda Linda exhilarating without feeling cheap or overwrought, building to an emotional ending that is warranted and satisfying.
It’s been a while since a film has made me laugh as much and smile as much as Linda Linda Linda does. It’s a cinematic delight, a radiant gem with an infectious joy. And it’s smart enough and strong enough to never fall into a moment that feels cheap or unwarranted. Here’s to the beauty that can’t be photographed and the delight I can’t fully put into words.
© 2012 James Blake Ewing