'Android in La La Land' is a film by Steve Read and Rob Alexander. It follows Gary Numan and his wife as they leave the UK and try to settle in Los Angeles with their young family. It isn't the‘career-by-numbers’ fluff piece that some might have expected (or feared). By the looks of it, the crew was given more or less unlimited access to the Numan household, with the result that Read and Alexander have produced an amazingly candid piece. There’s no sense here that we’re being presented with anything that has been particularly dressed up for public edification. Gary and his amusingly bonkers missus Gemma come across as a lovably eccentric middle-aged couple, a less annoying version of The Osbournes.
The narrative tension focuses on the fact that, having hit a creative brick wall and suffered a serious bout of depression, Gary is under pressure to produce a special ‘comeback’ album. It’s going to be his first new work for about seven years and –as the family acclimatises to their new surroundings- we get the impression that their future depends upon the success (or otherwise) of Poppa Numan’s new record. He talks frankly about his Asperger’s syndrome and about how it has informed his creative process (and imposed limits on his social intercourse). He candidly admits that if he hadn’t been a pop star, he would never have had a girlfriend in his life.
Through the difficult times, the three little Numanettes are impossibly cute and it’s lovely to see them mocking their hair-dying, guy-liner wearing electropop dad. ‘Does dying my hair black make me look younger?’ Gary asks. ‘No’ he’s told. ‘It just makes you look old with black hair’.
The film is honest, insightful and funny; it also has some moments of genuine tenderness. The only time I felt that the directors stepped back from the edge was when Gary talked about the big fallout with his parents, a row so significant that he felt that he had no longer had a stake in remaining in the UK. I attended a showing at Glasgow Film Theatre, which had a Q and A with Steve Read at the end. He fielded the questions skilfully (including some truly international-class anorak queries from a couple of ageing Numanoids) and explained why the film was content to let the viewers ‘fill in the gaps’ on the big family fallout. Gary’s mum Beryl died this year and there was simply no need to rake up the ashes of an old dispute. Thankfully, some of the damage had been repaired before she died.
When you recall the amount of press derision that followed Numan’s marriage to fan club member Gemma O’Neill in 1997, it may be surprising for some to discover that this film is –above all else- a love story. The couple endured several miscarriages and failed bouts of IVF before giving birth to Raven, the first of their three girls, in 2004. As Gary’s creativity dried up and Gemma suffered a prolonged bout of post-natal depression, their marriage hit the rocks. They managed to pull back from the brink and the film makes it clear that they are devoted to each other. The lyrics on his triumphant ‘Splinter’ album from 2013 explore that trauma and the recovery.
“Gemma”, says Gary, “is everything I’m not.”