La La Land is the smasher of this awards season, collecting accolades and ready to grab as many Oscars as it can on the next 26 February. The film directed by Damien Chazelle reached the record of fourteen nominations, a tie with Titanic and All About Eve.
The critical acclaim has been accompanied by a huge commercial success and a genuine audience affection. This modern musical proved to be able to appeal to the hearts of critics and public with its LA love story, its gracious cinematography, its emotional tunes - two are the tracks, City of Stars and Audition (The Fools Who Dream), nominated for Best Song.
Nonetheless, dissenting voices stated the film is overrated: tedious, racist, sexist and played by actors unfit for a musical. Although those negative opinions are not enough to put out La La Land’s many lights - the result of a colorful, dynamic experiment by cinematographer Linus Sandgren - they may dim them by missing the point.
Yes, the story is nothing but new. It is a boy-meets-girl plot, where Seb (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) fall in love as the seasons go. While the audience witnesses the summer of love turning into a crispy autumn, they also see Mia and Seb learning about self-love. Boring? No, just real.
Romantic love can fade away, pursuing one’s goals will not. The protagonists pushed each other to never give up on their dreams. This is a love one can never fall out of. And letting go for a greater good is the opposite of corny, as someone unjustly claimed.
Yes, it would be amazing if La La Land featured more Black characters in order to deliver an accurate depiction of the jazz scene. Seb is a white jazz hack who celebrates Black artists with his music. Seeing some racism in such a devotion would mean pushing it too far.
On the contrary, there is an attempt of subverting the clichés in the controversy between Seb and Keith (John Legend). The former is a conservative jazz musician, although White, the latter is open to new sonorities, although Black. Nobody is threatening anything: they are both conscious of their music, its Black origins and its potentiality.
Yes, it would be amazing if La La Land featured more gay characters in order to give a composite representation of LA. It is 2016, some argued. It was 2016 indeed when the film was released. Do we still need people to state their sexual preferences as if it was a big deal? If you think that none of the people in the opening scene, to mention one, is gay, think again.
Moreover, the film revolves around an intimate relationship between two individuals. That leaves little room for anyone else, no matter their sexual orientation. It is not discrimination, rather letting the audience feel as Mia and Seb were the only two people, constantly spinning in the ever-starry night of the observatory. The rest is dark and silence.
Yes, Seb can be a hefty guy. However, when he profusely illustrates his first love, jazz, to a not very thrilled Mia, he is not mansplaining. He wants to instill his love for jazz into someone he likes. Being overly enthusiastic and trying to share a passion with those we love is not a crime. Several daily acts are the outcomes of patriarchy, Seb’s sparkling eyes when he talks about his music are not.
Yes, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are not dancers nor singers. Why not casting two musical actors? The commercial motive is righteous. Chazelle had been working on his film for years before he found someone willing to finance his project. He wanted the best for it. And the best was egregiously embodied by two of the most talented actors in the industry.
As weird as it may sound, it is the acting that matters the most in this musical. In this sense, the fact that they both dance and sing only averagely good brings their love, their dissatisfaction and resilience closer to the audience. Filmgoers are anesthetized to greater grief they do not recognize, but are ready to catch what they know. That is why the truth of the performance overcomes the clumsy yet enjoyable dancing and singing. Emma Stone is a perfect, honest, heartbreaking fit for the role, while Gosling, better at dancing, does not convey the same veracity and he is most likely to lose the Oscar to Casey Affleck.
Yes, La La Land owes its charm to the Hollywood Golden Age classics and the modern musicals. As for the latter, they appear to exercise their influence at their best only when set in the past: from Chicago’s 20s to Across the Universe’s 60s. Instead, Chazelle brought classic jazz into a present-day love story. The outcome is relatable, despite some incongruences (a waitress driving a Toyota Prius, what were you thinking?), and evanescent simultaneously.
This combination of practical and magical can only be fulfilled on screen. If cinema is able to create a unique spell with sweat and tears, then La La Land is a masterpiece, provided the audience embraces the dancing and singing and is ready to grasp its core meaning.
The acknowledgement of a masterpiece may take a while, just like it takes years to achieve a goal. If you hated La La Land, if you frowned at the opening sequence, if you yawned at that first kiss through the stars, if you did not shed a tear at the final montage, take your time. It will all come to you at some point. If not, please let us dream.