Whenever a film with an insurmountable amount of positive buzz is finally released, this inevitable phenomenon occurs where people, especially film critics and students, suddenly turn on it. La La Land is certainly one of those films. Before its public release it received near-universal acclaim at several film festivals, won several awards, and was on many critics’ lists of the best films of the year, all before being released to us normal people. And now that it’s finally here, people are jumping at the chance to criticize it. Now, don’t get me wrong -- people are entitled to their opinions, and I do not think La La Land was perfect. That being said, I immensely enjoyed the movie. I left the theater feeling giddy, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it for weeks (not to mention I’ve seen it twice more since that first time). But that was just me, and for the sake of people looking for reasons not to like the film, I’ve compiled a list of things that La La Land isn’t. Perhaps I can even save you the time of going to the theater and being disappointed that La La Land isn’t one or all of the following:
1. A Complex Character Study
La La Land does not have complex characters. Most musicals don’t. If that’s something you were looking for in this film, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Mia is an aspiring actress who’s stubborn, Sebastian is an aspiring jazz musician who’s stubborn, they don’t like each other, and then they do. That’s about as deep as it gets. But what’s important is that the film wasn’t trying to go deeper than that. It’s not necessary. The film focuses on the aforementioned aspects of each character because at its simplest level this is a film about pursuing one’s dreams, and how the dreams of two different people collide and affect each other.
2. Saying Something Weighty
It’s news to no one that this was a year full of political strife, and appropriately enough, several films have come out this year that touch on themes that were important to the American electorate this year, such as racism, classism, and xenophobia. If you came to La La Land in hopes of seeing some of that on screen, you came to the wrong film. The film does, however, have several messages that are worth discussing. It gives a more nuanced look at the well-trodden “I wish I was a star” trope, and discusses the difference between people’s romanticized image of an aspiring actress pursuing stardom and the tough, heartbreaking, humiliating reality. The film was never trying to say something about 2016 because it’s escapism, and if there was ever a year that people needed to escape from, it’s this one.
3. A Shining Example of Inclusivity
This is the only item on this list that I’m actually disappointed about. Chazelle took on the big task of updating the Hollywood musical for the 21st century, and unfortunately, he did not take this chance to fix the inclusivity problem that is prevalent in those old films (see Natalie Wood’s Puerto Rican accent in West Side Story). A lot of those films had one token person of color, and this film does the same thing. A friend of mine very correctly pointed out that none of the people of color in the film have emotional arcs. I will note that Chazelle seemed to have made it a point to include as many people of color in background and small roles as possible, and did much better at including black people in the jazz scenes than he did in his previous film, Whiplash, which is nice considering that black people invented it. That being said, I really really wish we could get to a point where people of color aren’t just the best friends or people that Ryan Gosling dances with momentarily on a dock at magic hour.
It’s so much easier to emotionally affect somebody with a depressing film than with an optimistic one. So many Oscar bait movies are essentially pity porn. Functional family? Nah. No one’s died in the past 20 minutes? Nah. Has there been an extreme wide of the beautiful actress who’s playing an ugly woman crying yet? Better edit that in. La La Land isn’t depressing. It’s not saccharine either, though. It’s got a bittersweet ending, and while it’s uplifting overall, it’s never 100% happy. But it’s certainly not a terse drama. And in my humble opinion, those weepy dramas are a dime a dozen. I can’t think of the last film I saw that was this optimistic and this good.
5. A Typical Oscar-Bait Movie
There, I said it. I was kind of getting there with the last point, but here it is. Every year around this time, a ton of dramas come out that are all trying to win Oscars. And every year, a maximum of one of them wins Best Picture, and the majority of the rest of them fade into obscurity because when it comes down to it, they aren’t unique. You can’t watch La La Land and say it’s not original. You can tell that Damien Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz loved what they were creating, and most importantly, it is unlike anything I’ve seen in theaters in recent memory. Was it the best film of the year? I don’t know, honestly. How do you compare an escapist jaunt with an emotional, intense masterpiece like Moonlight? Is it enough that I wanted to see this film multiple times because it left me feeling happy and inspired, or should the best film be a movie that strips me to my core and makes me contemplate life? That’s where the whole concept of crowning one film “Best Picture” gets thorny. All I can say is that I enjoyed La La Land, and if you did, you shouldn’t feel any guilt for it.