We all know 2016 has been a mare of a year. It feels like with every step forward, we take three steps back. La La Land is like a hug to make us feel a little better, despite all the shit that’s gone down.
In the 1930s, when much of the world suffered from the Great Depression, people turned to the cinemas to enter another dreamscape. In the dim light of the cinema, nestled into their chairs, audiences entered a trance where – for just a little while – all that mattered was Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Just in time to shake off our 2016 worries, Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) gives us La La Land.
Emma Stone (The Help, Easy A) stars as Mia, a modern day Kathy Selden who jumps from audition to audition trying to break into the Hollywood scene. The story revolves around Mia’s romance with Sebastian, who is played by Ryan Gosling (The Notebook; Crazy, Stupid, Love). With eye candy and this good, it’s no surprise that La La Land is unabashedly a classic musical.
The story opens with Mia, it follows Mia’s gaze. It’s Mia’s fantasies we explore all the way through an elaborate finale. There is no question that the musical is a tale of a woman’s success – her dreams, her work, her family, and all the messy ways those things can work together. It’s a pleasure to watch the chemistry between Stone and Gosling, but in the end, it’s not a Gosling film.
As we settle into the story, we are treated to a scene where the romantic tension between Mia and Sebastian is almost palpable. I was transported to my high-school crushes, to first kisses, and to the absolute buzz of young love. The film triggers an acute and mind-bending sense of nostalgia. Somewhere between the mid-century color schemes and the melancholy piano, the audience starts to yearn for a time when we might have felt good.
As a side note, despite all of the nostalgic hyperdrive choreographic sequences, there are at least two mannequin-style choreographed scenes (without the annoying song). I actually have a crazy conspiracy theory that this year’s Mannequin Challenge has been a viral marketing campaign for the film.
As you can see, I’m a cynic at heart. The problems with La La Land mirror the problems with the musical genre as a whole. It’s heteronormative, it’s privileged, and it’s an absolute capitalist fan club. Although the film gives us a welcome release from the malaise of the political mess we are in, it still preaches the morals of hard work and dreamers and success.
It’s a real shame – because straight, white, middle-class “dreamers” were not the ones to suffer the most from this year’s tragedies. For me, the film sits at a solid 3.5 stars because it gives in to a lot of the old musical trappings. It loses points for lack of diverse representation and a somewhat lackluster outcome for the protagonist.
Despite this, La La Land is the Christmas sweater you shun in front of your friends but slip into when no one’s watching. It’s a comfort and a guilty pleasure. It’s a spectacle, and an escape – exactly what I desperately craved.