A critique of the Golden Globe winner “La La Land”



Jessie Himel

Besides its recent Golden Globe wins, there is talk that “La La Land” may tie the record for the most nominated Film in Academy Awards history. Now, I have nothing against musicals. I can totally get behind the spontaneous song-and-dance number in the middle of rush hour traffic in LA included in “La La Land.” Nice strategy to kill time in traffic.   

   Before we go there, here’s a quick synopsis in case you haven’t seen the movie yet.  

   “La La Land” is a musical movie written and directed by Damien Chazelle that stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Sebastian, played by Gosling, is a talented musician who falls in love with Mia, an aspiring actress, played by Stone. Throughout the movie, Mia repeatedly highlights the intense and merciless nature of Hollywood through her constant rejections for movie roles. Despite her persistent failure, Mia stays true to her dream, even writing and performing a one-woman show.

    On the other hand, Sebastian temporarily sacrifices his dream of one day opening up a jazz bar to become a keyboardist in his friend’s generic band. Sebastian’s newfound success and relative financial stability are heavily contrasted with Mia’s downward acting spiral. The ending is bittersweet, as it is a subtle acknowledgment to the former couple’s love as well as the happiness they share for each other’s success in achieving their individual dreams. 

    If you compartmentalize the movie and remove all the musical aspects, you realize the plot is surprisingly banal.  They don’t like each other at first (as usual), then they eventually fall in love. When Sebastian struggles to initially achieve his dreams, he reluctantly postpones his dream to join a band. It is clear that he is merely temporarily stalling his dream in order to make money to finance it, but of course, Mia views him as a sell-out. She is a frustrated actress. He persuades her to seize one last opportunity to make a name for herself. Her entire arch epitomizes the traditional path of an actress repeatedly failing to make it in Hollywood. Somehow, he opens his jazz club and she becomes a famous actress, both exemplifying the unrealistic path to fulfilling their dreams. 

   I understand that movie musicals sometimes have flimsy plots in between all the singing and dancing, but, unfortunately, “La La Land” falls somewhere in the middle. I’m perfectly content with temporarily suspending belief and merely enjoying the ride, but I always enjoy a structurally sound story and emotionally engaging characters with creative plot lines.