Published Apr 29, 2016Gary Numan: Android in La La Land isn't about music, but about the internal and relational landscape of the person behind it. The film follows the Numan family moving from the English countryside to the United States, trading a fairy tale-like purple house with sheep for a horror movie castle in California, and Numan's return to music as he prepares for the release of the shockingly good and unexpectedly successful 2013 record Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) and subsequent tour.
Though it centres on Numan and his relationship with his wife, Gemma, and their three daughters Raven, Persia and Echo, it also explores his relationship with his parents, who once served as his deepest confidants and managers, but whose relationship has become difficult and fraught after a severe falling out. Throughout, we learn about all the cracks, both hairline and foundational, that run through Numan's mind.
We hear from him and his parents how he was a sensitive child diagnosed with Asperger's, and was often heavily medicated as a result; we see photographs and hear stories of a budding rock star who relies on his parents for support long into adulthood; in old interview clips, we see a fragile young man who moves into a single room of his five-bedroom house when fame first comes to him, because it feels safer and more contained.
Gemma is often presented as a figure of great strength; she speaks with heartbreaking clarity and candidness about the miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies that she endured while trying to conceive the first of their three children, and about the devastating post-partum depression that haunted her for years. Though she talks about her own mental illness with forthrightness, she is positioned by both the film and Numan's comments as an emotional caretaker for her husband, smoothing over the relationship between Numan and his parents when things became fraught and endlessly soothing him through panic attacks and other mental health struggles.
In a practical sense, she also just gets shit done. There's an incredible scene in which the hard drive that has the most complete version of Splinter is badly damaged in the move. When Numan is dejectedly and rather ineffectually trying to fix it, Gemma (who, it turns out, is quite good with a soldering iron) takes the shattered drive and the iron out of her husband's hands and begins coolly fixing it.
Their relationship is at the core of the film. We see the origins of their courtship, when Gemma was a star-struck member of his fan club and, by all definitions, literally stalked Numan. She teases Gary frequently, and their constant banter about how much cover-up Numan should be wearing or whether he will be too scared to sleep well in their haunted, castle-like new home in the United States becomes a kind of lovingly bickering refrain. They speak of deeper discord, and both claim that it's something that deeply informs Splinter, but we never see any of that rupture or extreme tension in the documentary.
The only moment at which the emotional authenticity of the film fails is in its closing moments, which interposes footage of Numan on his latest comeback tour, gyrating to an adoring crowd, with clips of him reading a children's book about a giraffe, who's told by everyone that he can't dance, to one of his daughters. The scene comes across as disappointingly saccharine and moralistic in a documentary that is otherwise very subtle. There are enough extraordinary moments to forgive it — Gemma wringing out curtains soaked in cat urine, the family huddled together on the tour bus — and thankfully, it's these moments that linger when the film's over.
Despite its title, Android in La La Land is not about Numan being a robot, nor is it about some kind of escapist fantasy (though Gemma does relate that before she and Gary were dating, she dreamed of him saving her from her council flat in his helicopter while daleks chased them). Rather, it's about profound, flawed humanity and the deep, loving intimacy of a little family.