La La Land is experiencing something of a critical backlash of late, whilst initially appearing to be the best film anyone had seen ever, in the weeks following its general release opinion has slowly divided into two camps. For many, La La Land is a wonderful, toe tapping throwback to the musical fuelled 30’s and 40’s era of Hollywood, for others it’s a dull insult to the glory days of Fred Astaire And Ginger Rogers.
Though it takes place in a contemporary setting, La La Land channels the energy and visual stereotypes of musical cinema but gives it a modern movie making twist. There’s the two down and out lovers who aspire to more, they fall, they rise, they fall and then they finally achieve their hearts desires and live happily ever after. At least this is the ending I think many were expecting to see, and based on the films trailer you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was “just another musical”.
In truth, La La Land sets out to tell a story that closer represents our modern lifestyles. With so many paths and opportunities open to us now, and with the world presenting an ever uncertain future, there’s a growing trend for nostalgia and introspection. Thanks to social media, we’re more inward facing than ever, continually forced to assess our lives and how successful we appear to others. So naturally many of us end up wondering what we might have done differently and if we’d have been happier as a result, despite having achieved on paper (or on-screen) what we thought we wanted.
And that’s the story La La Land tells, albeit through a musical filter, a story of being careful what you wish for. Mia and Seb both achieve their dream goals, Seb saves his jazz nightclub and Mia has her successful acting career, an ending which in a normal musical would be cause for an upbeat grand finale track belted out by a large ensemble cast as the words ‘The End’ sparkle across the screen. Instead the feeling at the end of La La Land is one of sadness and regret for what might have been, as Mia and Seb go their separate ways exchanging only a last, longing acknowledgement across the room. With so much bad happening in our world at the moment, I think many were hoping that La La Land would be the much needed ray of musical sunshine to penetrate the mire of misery that saturates our news feeds. We needed a win.
As you may have noticed, La La Land is certainly winning, cleaning up at awards ceremonies and drowning in praise, not because of the film it is but because of the film people want it to be. If one were to really examine La La Land you could find much wrong with it, I can’t say the songs were especially catchy, entertaining and agreeable to the ear yes but not particularly memorable. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone make for good leads but was I blown away by their musical performance? Well… not really.
La La Land is by no means a bad film, from a film making and cultural perspective there’s a lot to love, it’s just being latched onto as a tribute act to a “happier” time in cinema. Looking at the competition it faces at award ceremonies they’re all quite stern, dark and emotionally heavy films like Arrival, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, and I, Daniel Blake, amongst which La La Land stands out just because it offers something that could be presented as cheerful unblemished optimism, but that isn’t what La La Land really represents despite all the dancing. And it’s for its unique use of the musical genre to tell an unconventional, modern story that makes La La Land a good film, but that’s not why it’s winning awards.
One of the many beauties of film making is that like all art it becomes representative of the time period in which it is made, La La Land is a unique film that channels the uncertainty and self reflection of our lives and is a great film in its own right, but in a world drowning in sorrow and anger I think perhaps what we needed was a good dose of that pure unadulterated musical sunshine of yore.