La La Land: Incredible, but Not Important

Warren Beatty needs Jordan Horowitz’s help. Jordan obliges, unhappily. (Photo: Eddy Chen/ABC/Getty Images)

The Incredible

I fell in love with film twice during La La Land (Chazelle, 2016). Not with this film in particular, but with cinema as a whole. In these moments, I felt the power of visual storytelling; it was transcendent, unexpected, and mouth-watering. Yes, mouth-watering. While the standard movie-goer drooled and cried over Mia and Sebastian’s relationship, I drooled and cried over the pie Sebastian made in the middle of the movie — the true star of the film. I will recount my observations, in detail, in case you missed it the first time around.

The pie makes it’s first and last appearance when Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) fight over dinner. Chazelle painstakingly crafted this meal of turmoil and resentment, and while the pie only appears at the end, seemingly acting as a symbol of their crumbling relationship, it had a tremendous build-up.

Frankly, I did not even notice the dialogue in this scene, because the camera entranced me. As the fight escalates, the camera alternates between Mia and Sebastian, as one would see in any typical dialogue scene. However, the camera pushes in, ever so slightly, so as we get closer to each character, they drift further and further apart. In this moment, with this simple take on an utterly standard technique, Chazelle has revealed the most important message of the narrative: this is a film about two people, not one couple. Their passions prove stronger than their romance… and those passions are (presumably) about dessert.

At the end of the scene, we meet our dazzling starlet. A flaky cornucopia of apples and syrupy goodness, who, like Icarus, flew too close to the oven light (assuming Ryan Gosling was using an easy-bake oven). Thus we have the true victim of the Mia/Sebastian calamity… I hope this gruesome sacrifice quenched Damien Chazelle’s artistic thirst.

With our martyr in place, we come to our second moment of inspiration: Mia’s audition. In the most emotional, impactful moment of the film, Mia draws upon her recent loss in The Fools Who Dream. There is no other way to interpret these lyrics, folks:

Here’s to the ones who dream (the pie)
Foolish as they may seem (because pies lack cognition)
Here’s to the hearts that ache (apples, I guess?…)
Here’s to the mess we make (pies are messy)

Powerful stuff. A moving tribute. Chazelle pulls at our heartstrings with the camera, once again. This scene is one of several long-takes (when the camera is rolling without interruption), the most jerked-off technique in film. However, Chazelle’s long-takes have motivation, as they often draw comparisons to the medium of musical theater, where every scene is a long-take. La La Land teeters between movie and musical in a way that pays homage to the musical films of classic Hollywood. This scene made me love film because it shows film’s versatility: a tribute to the genre, an example of motivated, multifaceted cinematography, and a fitting eulogy to a beloved baked dish.

These two moments show excellent, powerful filmmaking. We can understand so much with so little, sometimes subtle and sometimes in our face, and that’s what makes film unlike any other medium. Thank you everyone who worked on La La Land to tell the story of this forsaken pie…

…Look at the stars, pie — they’re shining just for you.

The (Un)Important

I truly loved La La Land. It left me flabbergasted, unable to leave the theater until a wave of patrons flooded in for the next showing. However, I do not believe this film was important. Cartoons and cooking shows have explored the plight of ill-fated pies for ages — we’ve seen them stolen from windowsills and thrown into the faces of clowns. Chazelle’s rendition, albeit flashier and grander than its predecessors, told the same story of pie we all know. Even the peripheral themes of sacrifice, love, and passion were not exactly fresh, and certainly not necessary.

Regarding necessity, Pixar, arguably the greatest tellers of necessary stories, has a few rules of storytelling. One rule reads “Why must you tell this story?" And I ask, why did someone have to tell the story in La La Land? Chazelle told the same story, that sacrifice is necessary for perfection, in his previous film Whiplash (2015). Is La La Land truly different?

It seems La La Land didn’t learn much from the 2015 Oscars, where #OscarsSoWhite was trending because of a noticeable lack of people of color (POC) in the pool of nominees, despite many powerful performances. In this vein, La La Land accrued multiple infractions, the two primary ones being

1. A white man was to save jazz (reminding of me of Marty McFly stealing Johhny B. Goode from Chuck Berry).
2. The only significant POC, played by John Legend, was portrayed antithetically to Gosling’s character, suggesting he was selling out jazz, instead of preserving/progressing it.

Damien Chazelle is entitled to tell this story any way he sees fit. However, the issue arises when this becomes canon in a tradition of ostracizing underrepresented filmmakers/artists… particularly at the Oscars, where film history is (supposedly) made. My college roommate once told me “The Oscars are a nice thing…and nothing more.” While I agree with him, when America is waiting to see which film will be immortalized forever, the stakes are high when it’s La La Land against Moonlight (Jenkins, 2016).

Moonlight won that title, deservedly so. It is incredible and it is important. This film about a poor, gay, black man from Miami is not a token film to appease the OscarsSoWhite hashtaggers. As Viola Davis said at the Academy Awards that night, “[artists] are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life,” and hot damn did Moonlight do that to perfection.

Film does not exist in a vacuum. La La Land will always be incredible, and it will be remembered as a great film. Moonlight too will live on as a great film, but its meaning will outlast its cinematic achievement.

No pie though — 9.9/10.

Like what you read? Give Pj Trainor a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.