Lately, everybody’s been talking about a movie called Lala Land. It’s directed by Damon Chazelle and stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as Mia and Sebastian, star-crossed lovers in modern-day Los Angeles. The movie has been nominated for 14 Academy awards, which ties the all-time record set by All About Even and Titanic. I hate to be an echo when the film has already gotten so much praise, but it deserves it.
Lala Land is not the best movie I’ve ever seen, so perhaps so many Oscar nominations is a bit of overkill. I think, however, that it’s warranted given the current dearth of good solid films with general appeal. Furthermore, it’s fun to revisit the time-honored musical format. Unlike many of the old-time movies, in which another person’s voice was dubbed in for the musical numbers, both Gosling and Stone sing, and they do a good job. As for the choreography, I’m by no means an expert but it looked good to me.
Like all romantic stories, there’s a bit of a formula. The protagonists, an aspiring actress and a struggling musician, meet by accident and it’s hate at first site. Their paths keep crossing, however, and as in any formula romance, the initial repulsion turns to passionate attraction. On the other hand, La La Land mixes it up with an ending that’s not quite the standard “happily ever after.” I liked that, not because I’m anti-tradition but because it’s nice to defy expectations for a change. Are the protagonists’ personal dreams more important than a cherished relationship? The way the characters approach that dilemma is what makes the story.
It’s been so long since we’ve seen a musical set in contemporary America, it seems jarring to have one with cellphones and electric cars. In a way, it’s less of a musical than its spiritual predecessors. Though it begins with a surprising and impressive song-and-dance number on an LA freeway on-ramp, the songs don’t appear throughout. Since Sebastian is a musician, much of the music is organic to the story.
My favorable opinion of Lala Land has been solidified by the disgruntled reaction from Social Justice types in the media. One of these ridiculous reviews was by Geoff Nelson on Paste. He argues that the nostalgia the movie expresses is racist because things were bad for black people in the good old days. Furthermore, Nelson finds it insulting that Gosling’s character, a white man, strives to save jazz, while the black character Keith (played by John Legend) is a sell-out to pop music. Excuse me, but jazz has never been a purely African-American art form. The Jewish contribution to early jazz has been well documented. We never see Sebastian in a yarmulke, but who knows? (Gosling himself was raised Mormon.)
This identity politics reaction is all the more ironic since Emma Stone was one of those Hollywood lefty girls in the “I Will Survive” anti-Trump video. I care not one whit about Stone’s political opinions; she’s a great actress and adorable to boot.
If you haven’t seen La La Land, see it; it’s a lot of fun. Those of you guys who are worried about the “musicals are gay” stereotype, see it when it comes out on video. Your secret will be safe with me.
For a dose of nostalgia and alternate history, see my book Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, currently in e-book and coming soon in paperback form.