I don’t usually write about films on here. I don’t usually write about films period. Don’t get me wrong, I like watching films — although I will say, more and more, I find it difficult to sit down and actually stay focused on one single storyline for a couple of hours, especially in a cinema setting. I’m not sure what that’s about. But anyway. My point. I like films, but I’m not a ‘film person’. I don’t set out to watch every film that comes out, more specifically in the awards season. I generally only watch what appeals to me, and that usually isn’t arty, trying-to-be-profound films. Films aren’t my thing, in that sense. I don’t buy into the hype of films like I might with a book, or even with a TV show (sometimes). Does that make sense?
So I will say that I was pretty apprehensive about seeing ‘La La Land’, even as a lover of musical theatre. I was made more apprehensive still when people started talking about some of its more problematic elements, like – shock horror — its lack of diversity. I mean, do we expect any less at this point when it comes to Oscar nominated films? I’m not saying we should settle for that being the norm. What I am saying, is it’s not exactly surprising at this point. So, with the knowledge that award winning films are notoriously white-washed, I engaged in the criticisms about ‘La La Land’. Because, as a white, straight, able-bodied woman I know I personally won’t always be completely attuned and quick to pick up on the areas and issues a film like ‘La La Land’ falls short on.
Even with what I had read, I went to see it. More because the opportunity arose (I went on a date! What?!) than me going out of my way to make sure I got the full cinematic experience. But I went to see it and I had some thoughts that I felt like composing into this here blog post. Like I said before, I don’t really write about films, but it makes a nice change and I do genuinely love musical theatre. So yes. ‘La La Land’. Thoughts. The good and the bad.
Let’s start with what I liked about it. I liked the music. Although it didn’t feel like a musical that possessed those big iconic numbers that almost become the very identity of most musicals, the use of music as a motif with recurring reprises are some of my favourite elements in theatre and ‘City Of Stars’ was genuinely a really lovely ballad. That said, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling definitely weren’t the strongest singers. And sure, I get their voices weren’t exactly the main focus. But it’s a musical, so regardless of whether we’re putting the spotlight on singing or jazz, the cast members should have strong vocals. I will say I liked the paper thin tones of Stone and Gosling, but ‘La La Land’ could have picked up a ton of integrity points by choosing perhaps lesser known actors who actually have the voices to match up to a musical. It would have functioned as a huge starting platform for more talented leads and, hey, here’s a wild idea, they could have even been POC. Especially with jazz being born to the black community in New Orleans. Yes, jazz should be enjoyed by all and it is, and I did love how passionate Ryan’s character, Seb, genuinely came across. But jazz ultimately belongs to a minority who has had to deal — and still does deal — with extreme discrimination. So to have seen a black person or even another minority represented in Seb’s role would have been a really cool message about the power and influence of jazz. And, you know, it wouldn’t have been the story of a privileged white boy struggling.
I will say that I did love the overall message of ‘La La Land’. Being inthralled by the arts and wanting to make your dreams turn into money. Yep, I related to that a lot, as I’m sure many other creative types did. It was a great motivator in that sense to push yourself, because those desires that seem way too far out of reach can become a reality, can become a goal to strive for, ultimately something you’ve achieved. I actually want to write about that attitude of living life by chasing your dreams, because I firmly believe in it. So I’ll give it to you, ‘La La Land’. I liked that. I also liked Ryan Gosling’s hair, sweaty and falling into his eyes, post absolute jazz-gasm. Damn.
The actual way in which ‘La La Land’ was produced was pretty incredible, too. It felt like a real homage to musical theatre in its translation from stage to film. I thought that aspect was captured so effortlessly, even if the vocals didn’t exactly match up. The way in which things were shot from a fluidity perspective (can you tell I don’t know about film yet, or indeed writing about film?) was also something I picked up on and really digged. The way the cameras panned with the characters, following where they walked felt really reminiscent of sitting in a theatre and watching as scene transitions took place, your eyes travelling as the actors darted about the stage. The camera didn’t remain stationary as Emma Stone walked out of shot; it followed her, like the audience’s eyes might, as she exited the café on the Warner Brothers lot downstage left.
The other nods to real life theatre also got me all excited, putting me right back into those uncomfortable, blue plastic school chairs, set in a circle in one of our old drama studios; discussing fiercely about symbols and emotions conveyed with the flick of an eyebrow or the quirk of the lips; why they did things like this as opposed to that. It was quite fun, then, to spot the little testaments. To name but a few: the stylistic elements such as those used in the planetarium when they fly into the stars; scenes being translated back onto stage, complete with painted cardboard bushes; the remaking of the opening LA traffic scene where they sang ‘Another Day Of Sun’ used in the final montage, also downsized back onto a theatre set; in the montage where they used silhouettes to harp back to an earlier scene; breaking down of the fourth wall with the actors looking the camera (the audience) dead in the eye. All these elements seemed to create a commentary of, ‘Yes, we know this is a musical, but nope we’re not live or on stage. But we’ve got these expectations and we wanna make this work.’ Musical theatre lovers alike will appreciate the game of ‘Spot The Theatre’, at least.
So, in truth, I came away from ‘La La Land’ liking it more than I expected to. But, at this point, lack of diversity in film is inexcusable, especially if we’re going to hype it up even more and put it on an Oscar pedestal. I mean, it almost felt like they were mocking ‘La La Land’ in the trailers before, largely advertising films about POC, including ‘Loving’ and ‘Fences’. My extortionate cinema tickets will be going on them next time.
Further ‘La La Land’ Reading:
- Vogue: Does Not Liking La La Land Make Me A Bad Person?
- Daniel J. Layton: Why I Didn’t Love La La Land (And Why That’s Okay)
- The Hollieblog: La La Land & The Way I’m Consuming Media