movies

The Case for La La Land

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La La Land won seven Golden Globes, the most ever by a single film in history.  It also garnered fourteen Oscar nominations, tying the record for that, and won six.  It was my favorite film of 2016.

Because of all those factors, and others I’ll explain later, I had to take a second, more critical look at La La Land.  Many of my favorites have been nominated for Best Picture, but the only one I saw in the theater that ever won was The Hurt Locker.  That made me think…had I just been charmed by La La Land or was it really that good?

After my second viewing tonight, I actually loved it even more.  La La Land is really that good. The montage that ends the film is pure magic, and overall I can truly say it represents everything that is great about the movies.

After watching it on Blu-ray tonight, it also got me thinking why the film, which was originally praised by critics and audiences,  received an inordinate amount of nasty backlash just before the Oscars.  One of the biggest disses was an article that appeared in USA Today called “The Case Against La La Land”.  I will always have complete respect for everyone’s opinion (and know that dissent is not only healthy but important), but I think the person who wrote the piece just didn’t get the film.

Unfortunately that article was just the beginning…there were others that mushroomed up just before the Oscars, which led to the surprising defeat of La La Land for Best Picture.

I’m all for varying opinions, especially when everyone is fawning over a film, and it’s always a good idea to take a second, more critical look.  If it’s deserving, someone should take a few whacks at it.  We should routinely question why the public have anointed anything “great”.

One of the arguments against La La Land, which I’d seen in a few articles, was that the main characters are thinly drawn.  At their core, Sebastian and Mia have real, tangible goals that they are passionate about achieving.  In drama, if you can make an audience believe that and also get them to root for their success, you have real, three dimensional characters.

You also don’t have to shove exposition and backstory about down the audience’s throat to make characters real.  I’m on the Hemingway side that its actually the opposite . . . if you tell the story right and true, you can leave many things out and it will make it stronger (the “Iceberg Theory”). The goal should always be (no matter how you go about it) to get a viewer to connect emotionally with a character.  If that’s accomplished then the writer, director, and actors (and everyone else who worked on the film) have done something special.  And Mr. Chazelle, Mrs. Stone, and Mr. Gosling did something special.

I also completely disagree with the argument that many of the songs are “lackluster and dull” (quoting that USA Today article).  I bought the soundtrack on iTunes the night I saw La La Land and the lyrics and music are excellent (“City of Stars” is something Cole Porter might have wrote back in the day).  I still listen to it.

Maybe the majority of today’s audiences just can’t grasp musicals.  Granted, it’s quite odd to see people just randomly break into song and dance.  Or even if you can accept musicals for what they are in theory, a lot of people don’t know how to properly critique them because they don’t have the necessary knowledge/history of the genre to do so.

For whatever reason I have always loved musicals (Singing in the RainAn American in Paris, and Guys & Dolls are three of my favorite movies).  That being said, the first time I saw La La Land, as I was watching the first two numbers (“Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd”) I was thinking “This is a bit weird” . . . here’s  a musical and I don’t know the songs.  That gut reaction is because we’re so used to singing along with musicals that have been around for a long time.

La La Land is completely new, and has original songs.  Most people who come to thefilm have never heard any of the music.  Would critics have preferred the scenes to have been scored with songs from “Grease” or “Hairspray” or “My Fair Lady”?  I certainly wouldn’t.

I haven’t seen Moonlight yet (I really want to), and it very well may be the better film.  But . . . and this is a big question to ask . . . why does Moonlight’s story rate higher on the importance scale than La La Land?   Yes, it certainly seems more dramatic and intense, but should that matter?  To me film transcends race, color, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, and all other categories you can name.

I think Richard Linklater (through the character Jessie) said it best in Before Sunset:

“So when I look at my own life, you know, I have to admit, right, that I’ve-I’ve never been around a bunch of guns or violence, you know, not really. No political intrigue or a helicopter crashes. But my life, from my own point of view, has been full of drama. And I thought, if I could write a book that, that could capture what it’s like to, to really meet somebody, I mean, one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to me is to meet somebody, to make that connection. And if I could make that valuable, you know, to capture that, that would be the attempt.”

With movies (in my opinion), the goal isn’t to judge which character had it “harder” in life . . . in the La La Land vs Moonlight comparison of course it would be the latter.  We should be examining drama, plot, characters, emotional connection, how it makes us feel . . .  the heart of filmmaking.  Yes, the stakes need to be high in order for a movie to be considered “Important”, but love and pursuing your dreams and passion and giving your all to whatever makes you feel alive, will always be some of the most important stories we can tell.

Either I was smiling at the magical dancing/singing/music/cinematography of La La Land, or I was astounded at how good the performances were, or I was hit with a dizzying nostalgia at my own days of trying to succeed in Hollywood.  The film is extremely entertaining, but more importantly the subtext is rich and it has a lot to say about dreams, ambition, and the choices we make in life.  It also isn’t spoon-feeding you a “message” . . . the film wants you to make your own opinions and thoughts about the price you pay for following your dreams.

If you haven’t seen La La Land, I highly recommend you check it out.