An Unpopular Take on ‘La La Land’
warning:probably contains spoilers.
The first time I came across “La La Land” was way, way back in September. Its screening at the Telluride Film Festival started a stream of positive reviews on my Twitter timeline, courtesy of some wonderful film critics whom I follow. Naturally, my interest was peaked. I mean… Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling leading in a film, together!? I can’t say I’m their biggest fans, but I’ve always adored those two. On top of that, I’ve heard only good things about Damien Chazelle, so the film seems like a matchmade in heaven.
At this point, we’ve all heard how “La La Land” is making history at the 2017’s awards season. Whether it’s Golden Globes or the Oscars, they’re leading in nominations and captivating audiences across the globe.
Chazelle, if anything, has succeeded in dazzling his audience around the world. He utilized all the right ingredients; two leads whose chemistry and talents are pretty close to unbeatable, Justin Hurwitz and that incredible, unforgettable soundtrack, a dash of nostalgia embedded in his scenes that takes one back to the good ol’ days, a dedicated exploration of a genre we didn’t know we were so eagerly waiting for (which then featured some great tribute scenes to classic musicals), thoughtful cinematic approach that seem to revive the magic of the motion picture, and of course, an inspirational message for ‘the fools who dream’.
There was a time when I would’ve bought into all that without question. That, plus the rave reviews? I would’ve been the first to give it all the praises in the world (as soon as I see it, of course). Maybe it’s me who has grown a little too critical with time (hopefully it’s for all the right reasons), but there’s many things about “La La Land” that I just can’t shake off.
One of the first things that really bothered me is the fact that Mia’s character was poorly written. Let’s not kid ourselves, Chazelle could’ve done a better job at introducing Mia to the whole world. She’s charming, yes — but the credit’s due to the actress, and not necessarily to how she was written. If we take a closer look at Mia, and perhaps if this story was in print and not performed, we wouldn’t have bothered to take more than a second’s notice. The film may have two lead characters, but only one was placed in the spotlight — and as you may have guessed, that privilege didn’t belong to Mia. The character lacked depth, and for reasons I cannot fathom she was not written in the same wavelength as Sebastian’s character. While I struggle to look for meaning in her pursuit as an actress and search for a hint of relatability in her affection for the performing arts; I didn’t have to make such an effort when it comes to Sebastian. His backstory was handed down to the audience on a silver platter, so neat and compelling, making a perfect flow to his story. Would it have hurt to know what was Mia favorite film, or maybe a performance that has propelled her to her journey (I know there’s the aunt backstory, but that seems to help the script rather than her character). The question of how she got involved in acting seemed to have been included in passing, as opposed to a meaningful exchange. The only thing that salvaged Mia was Stone’s extraordinary performance, and while that says a lot about her as an actress, it says very little about Chazelle as both writer and director.
It’s a gorgeous film, alright. But it feels superficial, as if everything’s just pretty on the surface. The people behind the film has done a great job in crafting it beautifully, but even I (an amateur, at best) can see through all that structure and see how fragile it really is. “La La Land” featured scenes that are so meticulously shot, it managed to revive a genre that seems to have been left behind. Its originality stroke me as an audience, and it’s probably one of the winning points that truly enchanted critics and movie lovers out there. I’m no expert in the industry, but I’ve rarely seen a critic defend a film — and many has done just that when it comes to “La La Land”.
There’s a strong sense of nostalgia in this musical. All that magic is a product of thorough research, and a love for this particular genre that manifested through the work. It becomes easy for film lovers to enjoy, especially because of that ingredients bit I mentioned earlier. Let’s face it, there was a time in Hollywood when films are meant solely to entertain rather than provoke its audiences’ thoughts, but it seems perfectly clear to me that we are living at a time when we can no longer afford to do that.
And what exactly do I mean by that? I’m not well-versed enough to be discussing this, so I’ll refer you a well-written piece by Amanda Joy — which you can find here. It talks about the uncomfortable subject of race — and aptly titled so– in this film. I certainly hope it gets your thoughtful juice working, because we need to have more constructive conversations happening.
For a film about dreamers, “La La Land” falls short. While it offers a great selling point, the sales cannot go through on a mere… premise/promise. We see Mia and Sebastian struggling to make their dreams come true, we see how their ‘hard work’ (I put this in quotes because this was proposed as a given in the film, rather than showed) paid off in the end, all the while they journey through this experience in a feat of songs, dances and the wonders that is Los Angeles. But is it really a film about/for dreamers? I can’t quite put my finger on it. I realize, of course, that I can’t counter this premise because it’s been presented decently. So as weak an argument as this is, I just thought I’d put it out there as a food for thought. I would’ve been okay if they had just pointed this one out as a film for lovers or believers, rather than dreamers. Maybe it’s just me whose fondness for words make me harder to please.
To be perfectly honest with you I think “La La Land” could’ve been transcendent, creating a whole new perspective on what a ‘musical classic’ should and could be in the 21st century. Instead, it has only managed to grab a second of our attention, garnering compliments from many in the process, but less likely to truly make us go back and think of it in a whole new perspective. ( I do realize how wrong I could be here, and I’ll bite my own tongue when the time comes or something — though I don’t really see why I can’t have my own dash of idealism as I’m a dreamer myself).
I went to the theater thinking I was going to be blown away. That didn’t really happen. The beauty of “La La Land” makes me cringe, even if I can appreciate it simultaneously.
It’s been a confusing time for me, mostly because so many people had soooo many good things to say about the film. And as I’ve said before, the film has its moments. It’s revolutionary in its own way, and credits are due partially to its directing and cinematography (and that fucking soundtrack, God I can’t stop listening) But did it really tug you at the core of your being? Not for me.
I should note, however, that Mia’s wardrobes are #goals.