Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Why I can’t buy into the "La La Land" craze

The hype around "La La Land" over the past few months has been palpable. Critics have raved about the film’s rejuvenation of the movie musical. FiveThirtyEight is using some type of statistical magic to predict that the movie will win “Best Picture” at the Oscars on Feb. 26. Even one of our own writers, Dilpreet Raju, called "La La Land" a “sprawling success” in a review posted earlier this month.

Friends from all walks of life have spoken to me about how the film profoundly affected them. "La La Land’s" vision of love and hope in the home of creative promise appealed to them during this time of great distress in our country. Plus, Ryan Gosling is hot. We can agree on that point, but not much else.

As the headline of this post indicates, La La Land was not my favorite Oscar contender of the year nor my least favorite. At first, I blamed my apathy on the performances of Gosling and Emma Stone. Casting is so important, I argued. If director Damien Chazelle wasn’t so obsessed with the chemistry between Gosling and Stone, and hung onto his original casting of Miles Teller and Emma Watson, "La La Land" could have maintained the realistic qualities it so desperately needed.

Obviously Teller and Watson are recognizable from their previous work, but they have not penetrated celebrity culture in the same way that Gosling and Stone have. I found myself staring at the screen thinking, “I’m watching two beautiful, incredibly successful performers portray desperate artists who are less aware of how obviously attractive they are. I can’t buy into this.” 

However, now that I’ve processed my reactions to the film, I can’t blame my indifference to it on those individual aspects. Sure, the singing was lackluster -- I can already hear a friend yelling, “that’s the point!” -- and the plot a tad overwrought. Chazelle was perhaps a little too dependent on zooming in on Stone’s face to evoke the appropriate reactions from the audience (“that’s the beauty of it!”). Perhaps the plot was a little too reverential of the plight of struggling white musicians and actors in Los Angeles.  

But that’s not the point. "La La Land" was meant to inspire me, and other aspiring writers and creatives, to dream bigger, work harder and go farther. We can achieve our promise, if only we believe that this is our destiny, the movie tells us.

These days, my promise feels more like a pipe dream than fate. Seeing this movie brought that feeling to the forefront for me. I left the theater feeling frustrated that the story had not touched me in the way that I wanted it to. I desperately want to believe in a world that rewards excellence, persistence and earnest belief in art. 

But as malicious and negative people reach new levels of power in our society, I could not lose myself in the world Chazelle, Gosling and Stone inhabit, not even for 128 minutes. That’s not "La La Land’s" fault, now is it?

hsamsel@theeagleonline.com


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