La La Land has been nominated for 14 Academy Awards and people aren’t happy about it.
As news broke that the original musical had equalled the record number of nods last earned by James Cameron’s Titanic in 1998, cinephiles took to Twitter to bemoan the injustice of it all.
“Overrated,” was the rallying cry of the naysayers. Many argued lead actors Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling “can’t actually sing”, others – perhaps fairly – denounced the lack of diversity in the film and some even linked it to Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan.
Watched La La Land last night, liked it but did not feel the things the Hype said I would feel. Thanks, Hype.
— Ashish Shakya (@stupidusmaximus) January 15, 2017
La La Land is the America that Make America Great Again imagines: white-washed, uncritically nostalgic, almost no musical numbers.
— jeffrey🦉cranor (@happierman) January 24, 2017
— Matt Neglia (@NextBestPicture) January 24, 2017
Here’s my opinion – and I throw it out there as only that, a personal opinion: We all need to lighten the hell up.
La La Land isn’t a perfect movie (I thought it was a little too long and could have done with more musical numbers) but it’s a magnificent feat of filmmaking, songwriting and acting.
A modern musical starring Stone and Gosling and written and directed by 32-year-old Harvard grad Damien Chazelle, it’s been the victim of the Hollywood hype machine since it was first announced.
It’s not surprising the buzz was almost deafening – Stone and Gosling are a pairing guaranteed to get people talking and Chazelle, coming off the success of the superb Whiplash, is hot property.
That, combined with the mystifying concept of an “original musical” in a sea of sequels, reboots and remakes, had people getting unnaturally excited in advance.
— Florence Andrews (@Florry_Andrews) January 14, 2017
La La Land delivered on the promise of its pre-release buzz and then some. For two hours and eight minutes it allowed us to escape into a world that’s both delightfully surreal and wonderfully familiar.
You don’t have to learn any lessons. You don’t have to face any harsh truths. You don’t even have to cry if you don’t want to.
Instead, you get to sit back and watch two incredibly loveable actors deliver a masterclass in on-screen chemistry and tap, shimmy and hum their way through the obstacles of love and success.
Candy-coloured costumes, killer choreographed dance scenes, ridiculously catchy songs and old-school physical comedy are the cherries on top of a cream-laden cake.
Even if musicals aren’t your thing, you have to give credit to the originality and technical excellence of the score, penned by Chazelle’s college classmate Justin Hurwitz.
Sure, some were bothered by Stone and Gosling’s less-than-perfect vocal performances, but I would argue this is what gives the film its edge and differentiates it from impossible-to-replicate classics like West Side Story and Les Miserables.
If you can’t beat ’em, start your own league, I say.
Of course, the argument the film is “white washed” can be easily supported with a quick glance at the cast list, which is noticeably lacking in people of colour.
Certainly, it’s a shame Chazelle couldn’t have included the many musically talented, diverse stars available in multicultural America.
We can only hope others learn from his mistakes while celebrating the sole black lead – John Legend, who delivers a nuanced performance and wrote what is arguably the movie’s most explosive song, Start a Fire.
Watch John Legend perform Start a Fire
Then there’s the criticism that the movie’s syrupy nostalgia is somehow an echo of US President Donald Trump’s catch-cry, “Make America Great Again”.
“La La Land is at its heart all about longing for an era in which showy choreography and saturated colour could elevate inconsequential first-world troubles into epic distraction,” CNN‘s Jeff Yang wrote.
“[W]hen examined against the context of its rivals, it prompts uncomfortable questions. Because in today’s Trumpmerica, longing for a ‘simpler era’ has a set of concealed teeth.”
Yang makes a good point and, as an American, he’s far more qualified to speak on this issue than I am.
But it sure would be nice to enjoy something just this once and not have it linked back to Mr Trump. Perhaps a bit of blind, naive escapism is just what the doctor ordered in these turbulent times.
Finally, to those arguing offerings like Moonlight, Fences or Manchester by the Sea are worthier of accolades, you’re probably right.
Me if La La Land beats Moonlight at the Oscars pic.twitter.com/hkSMfAvXmm
— Harper Brock (@brock_harper) January 15, 2017
Thankfully, they’re nominated too and will get the chance to knock La La Land off its perch, perhaps rightfully so.
But ignoring La La Land because it doesn’t fit into a narrow view of what a musical or even an Oscar-nominated film should look like would be restricting and unproductive.
As Tom Hanks said (unprompted and at a presser for his own film): “[La La Land] is not a movie that falls into some sort of trend. I think it is going to be a test of the broader national audience, because it has none of the things that major studios want.
“[It] is not a sequel, nobody knows who the characters are … But if the audience doesn’t go and embrace something as wonderful as this then we are all doomed.”