by Blaine Payer `18
La La Land, which began 2016 as the most highly anticipated film of the year, quickly became the forerunner in the Oscar race for Best Picture after its early December premiere. The sophomore effort by young director Damien Chazelle, who wowed critics and audiences alike by writing and directing 2015’s sleeper hit Whiplash, proves that he is not just a one-hit-wonder. His latest film showcases the same kind of elegantly complex camera work and powerful character performances as Whiplash, as well as a focus on the more pessimistic sides of show business.
In La La Land, a struggling but gifted jazz pianist named Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) meets and falls in love with Mia (Emma Stone), a barista who dreams of becoming an actress. The film follows the pair as they find their way in the City of Angels and work towards living their dreams, no matter the cost.
Musicals always become fan favorites, usually following likeable characters and hopping from one catchy song to the next. La La Land has all of that, however, despite the title, its characters face real and relatable problems and live in a world in which they have to fight tooth and nail to experience even small victories. It is part coming-of-age story, part real world drama, which, anchored by knockout performances by Gosling and Stone, is formulaic of a Best Picture favorite.
Of course, the internet often being the terrible place it is, all success in Hollywood is quickly subjected to skeptical critiques. In a USA Today article entitled “The Oscar Race: The Case Against La La Land,” Kelly Lawler claims that the film does not live up to its praise and many accolades (it broke records by winning all seven Golden Globes it was nominated for last Sunday).
She cites the fact that Gosling and Stone are “clearly not trained singers,” saying that it detracts from the film and does little to hide otherwise weak and hollow songs. However, most critics have praised Chazelle for choosing to have the pair sing in their real, flawed voices, for it makes the characters and their everyday struggles more relatable.
Other critics have called Gosling’s character a “white savior,” based on the fact that he, a white male, is trying to save the dying genre of jazz music, a historically black genre. Such a critique would normally be pushed under the carpet, but since La La Land is in the Best Picture race with Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and Fences, films that deal with overtly racial themes, coupled with the bad press that the Academy received last year for having no black nominees, the subject is still a sore one.
It seems as though with every great film, and this is undoubtedly a great film, there comes a certain level of backlash. Some of it admittedly warranted, while the rest comes off as simply grasping at straws. Unfortunately for all those who are trying to stop the runaway train that is La La Land, it appears to be losing no steam as it heads towards another successful weekend at the box office, and most likely a slew of Academy Awards come February. People can say that Hollywood loves a nostalgic movie about itself, or that over-the-top musicals always get the most attention, but that is just trying to make an excuse for the film’s success. Hollywood is always a sucker for powerful, masterfully made films, and La La Land is just that.