City of Different Stars: The Actors Who Would’ve Made La La Land Better
Emma Stone won the Best Actress Oscar.
Ryan Gosling netted a nomination for Best Actor.
But La La Land would’ve been better without them.
Look, I think Stone and Gosling are both very good actors. I will even concede that they are cute together in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love. (I can’t speak to the quality of their work in 2013’s Gangster Squad, on account of not having seen Gangster Squad.) Point being: I’m not prima facie allergic to Stone and Gosling as actors in general or as a Cute Movie Couple specifically.
But their performances in La La Land failed to deliver the much buzzed about charm and chemistry and worthy-of-gold-statues song-and-dance bravura. It’s not as if they were poorly cast as the leads, but both were far from perfectly cast, and I think it’s entirely fair, given the Oscar hardware, to consider that disappointing.
Stone was just fine playing the starry-eyed actress hoping for a break, and Gosling convinced as a brooding jazzsplainer, but both felt awkwardly out of place in the musical numbers — the lifeblood of the film. Their physicality seemed unnatural and their presence clunky in those important, movie-magic moments. Square peg in round hole, etc.
It would be lazy and unrealistic of me to suggest more formally-trained singers and dancers replace Stone and Gosling. That would sap the movie of star power. But if not Stone and Gosling up there, and without Broadway entertainers to take their place, who could we confidently cast as Sebastian and Mia?
The correct answer is Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt.
JGL is arguably in the same heartthrob tier as Gosling, capable of matching him in charm and charisma and tailored suit game. But he undoubtedly surpasses Gosling when one compares singing and dancing chops. JGL is simply a much more natural performer in a musical role (see vid below). Plus, it takes zero stretch of the imagination to picture the actor getting defensive about jazz or leaking out a wistful smile while slumped over a piano.
Combine JGL’s heartsick shtick from (500) Days of Summer with the cool bravado of his work with Christopher Nolan and you’ll see: La La Land’s Sebastian is the role he was born to play. Where Gosling was nominated, JGL could’ve won.
Emily Blunt is one of the best actresses in Hollywood right now, but nobody seems to be talking about her. She’d come to this role with a musical already on her resume (2014’s Into the Woods), and a bit of experience dancing on film to boot. While Blunt is a romantic comedy veteran (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Your Sister’s Sister, The Five-Year Engagement), it’s the assured swagger she’s displayed in Edge of Tomorrow and Sicario that makes her the perfect choice for Mia, as she’d bring a confidence and hunger to the character that Stone couldn’t fully muster.
Even though it was Stone who took home Oscar gold, it still felt like she was in Gosling’s shadow during La La Land. Blunt’s Mia would comfortably go toe-to-toe with Gordon-Levitt’s Seb. (Ageists will take issue with casting Blunt in place of Stone, as the former is six years older than the latter, and the character of Mia is a yet-to-be-discovered actress. Haters will hate.)
What makes this re-cast all the more logical: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt have shared the screen before, in 2012’s Looper. They have proven onscreen chemistry in a movie that also features romance, arguments, and alternate timelines.
Go on, picture the both of them waltzing around a starry background, JGL wearing a tux and his signature dimpled smile, Blunt donning a gown with her eyes piercing through the screen. This should have been reality, but it’s simply one more dream that I cannot make true.