Damien Chazelle’s passion project has become perhaps the most definitive Hollywood movie in ages, expressing the very best of what moviegoing could possibly offer, as made for a new generation of artists and dreamers. Everybody has fallen in love with its atmosphere and music, from the critics to the Academy of Motion Pictures to the general public. I admittedly am one of those fans who adore La La Land‘s charm and musical score, although I still have to admit, underneath the dream-colored frosting, there lies a dangerous agenda by the cast and crew.
Just a disclaimer before I go through the list, there will be spoilers. So if you have not yet seen La La Land, please stop reading now.
Click here to read my original review.
The entire opening number features attractive people in their twenties singing about following their dreams, the essential character trait of millenials. Anyone older than a millenial, such as Sebastian and Mia’s bosses, come off as distanced, unknowing, and simply cold in their outlook upon the younger generation.
2. The Reason I’m Broke is Because of the Government
All these twenty-somethings clearly have unstable bank accounts, which explains why they’re headed to LA to land it big. This defines anyplace in the United States: so many people carry debt, we wonder how we still have a government. Yet the answer as to why explains itself: they prioritize buying big expensive things. LA’s rent prices obviously ain’t cheap, not to mention the high-quality clothes worn by both Mia and Sebastian, and the elaborate, colorful decorations in their home. Okay, so Sebastian can’t afford to live in a decent apartment, but he can still afford all these wool suits worn by the finest, classiest musical legends? Right...
3. Live in the Past
Nostalgia is a major theme in the movie, from Sebastian’s hopes to revive jazz to all the cinematic callbacks to older Hollywood musicals. It does not seem like a bad thing at all, seeing how great things were back in the day. Although, plenty of great benefits exist in the new times which were not around then. Looking back on all the old musicals such as Singin‘ in the Rain and Umbrellas of Cherbourg, their acting and technical quality holds up pretty poorly, considering the limited technology at the time. Except La La Land took things a step further, by opening up with a musical number on a freeway overpass shot with no edit cuts, something nobody in the 1950s would ever dare to attempt. Although this movie seems to possess a mentality that movies were better then than now. I see all sorts of “best“ lists, particularly by the AFI, honor movies from the 30s-50s, and ignore virtually everything from the past twenty years. The fact is, phenomenal character studies have indeed been made within the past decade, such as Birdman, The Social Network, 12 Years a Slave, Mad Max: Fury Road, and many others. Things were not better in the past, just different.
4. Music is a God
Director Damien Chazelle has favored music as a deity figure in his previous instant-hit Whiplash, where being an expert in jazz requires your commitment to near-suicidal rates, requiring the sacrifice of your friends, family, and sanity. While it is not nearly as extreme here in Sebastian’s obsession with jazz, he still willingly makes it more important than his own jazz-hating girlfriend.
5. Obey Your Impulses
Both of these leads rely on instinct throughout the whole film, right from Mia’s backstory of leaving college to pursue acting in LA. Seemingly no other circumstances influenced her decision, she supposedly followed her impulses and left behind the chance to get a college degree, which otherwise could have given her a better chance to find work if acting didn’t work out. It does prove to be difficult, but she still gets what she wants because she obeyed her impulse. On the other end, Sebastian went against his boss’s orders to play only Christmas music at the restaurant he was hired at. He could have thought with his head and obeyed his boss to get by with the little money made. Nope! He obeys his own impulse, and plays his own jam. He sure enough gets fired, not to punish him for not thinking rationally; but to portray his boss more as uncaring about great music, which goes back to my first point.
6. Passion, Not Talent or Hard Work, Gets You What You Want
I haven’t noticed this until another critic pointed it out, but Sebastian never gets a chance to see Mia act, after all she saw of his music. Likewise, we never see Mia practice her craft to get better; we only see her show up to an audition, state a monologue we never saw her rehearse before, then get rejected. We don’t even see any preparation work for her one-woman show, never mind the show itself. It subliminally expects you to just magically master whatever you want to be; no need to practice, as long as you love what you’re doing, you’ll win.
7. It‘s Their Fault, Not Mine
Mia keeps getting turned down at every audition she aims for without acknowledging being rejected for lacking any acting ability. She certainly gives perfectly rational reasons for not getting parts, such as because she is not tall enough or pretty enough, but what we see more of beyond her explanation lands on the casting directors: they are busy on their phones, someone else interrupts, they interrupt her, the reasons go on. While landing a role in the acting world is certainly unimaginably competitive, what Mia complains about, and the result of her actions, suggests an inability to truly fail; if you ever do fail, you did nothing wrong—others are just too blind to see your craft.
8. Marriage is Meaningless
We learn no details about the marriage between Mia and her husband. Yet we learn plenty about what her relationship was like with Sebastian. She even goes as far as having an elaborate, detailed fantasy at the end of the movie about what life could have been like if she made more of the desired choices with him. So if she had a chance to cheat on her husband for Sebastian, she would, could, and should. Again, nothing comes up about how healthy her marriage is, leaving it open enough to interpretation for us to come up with our own scenario. The crew‘s efforts seemingly want us to see the two leads end up together, only to throw it all out and say that taking care of ourselves is more important. With the final look and smile between Mia and Sebastian, it entitles Mia’s marriage as a binding ball and chain to her heart; she can have these fantasies about a younger, handsomer man and keep it secret from her husband. So imagine the potential problems between Mia, her husband, and her whole family.
9. Beautiful, Rich, White People are the Heroes
Think about it: jazz was largely influenced by famous names such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Dizzy Gillespie, all Black. Most people associate jazz as music celebrated within Black communities. Instead of it being revived by the very ethnicity of its genesis, we have the sheer embodiment of every young White woman’s fantasy. This is not the “revival“ of classical jazz like Sebastian talks so passionately about, it is whitewashing African-American history in the same way Hollywood whitewashes their films. Although Sebastian’s partner in their musical band, Keith, is Black (although he appears to be a mix of all sorts of things), he still has greater ambitions to modernize jazz by mixing it with White people’s music. Therefore only the truly White musician can bring back jazz for what it is, causing a whole new generation to not see jazz as a celebration of Black history, which our politically correct times desperately needs.
10. Parents are a Safety Net To Your Failure, Nothing Else
Not once do we hear about Sebastian’s parents or their opinions on him pursuing the revival of jazz. Although we do see (super) brief glimpses of Mia’s parents, no information comes through about what they think of their daughter’s supposed failure. More active parents could have opened up opportunity to a touching scene about Mia figuring out her future and self-reliance. Instead, we get a depiction of her parents just being a warm blanket to comfort her after accepting defeat of her own selfish ambitions. I’m sure she loves her parents and has a fine relationship with them, based on what we saw, but what we don’t see tells us to focus more on ourselves than the two people who brought us to the earth in the first place.
11. Fame and Fortune are Signs of Success
Before I go on, I should emphasize one minor detail I noticed while last watching this movie. In the beginning after Mia’s first failed audition, she goes home and takes a shower. The moment she walks out of the shower, her hair is tied up and perfectly dry, just like those annoying girls on Instagram who go all “doi, I just woke up like dis! #nofilter“ despite their obvious makeup and hairstyling before snapping the selfie. It seems like a meaningless detail, but it actually says a lot about how Hollywood favors beauty over logic. Now onto the rest of Mia’s long struggle to land a part, she does eventually make it, and has giant posters of her face around the city. So stop trying to make the most of how little you have; if you’re broke, you’re doing something terribly wrong with your life. Keep working at being an artist, and eventually, in time, you’ll get exactly what you want, and exactly in how you envisoned it. Unlike Sebastian’s musical partner Keith, who skewed the vision of the American dream, or the grownups, who don’t even bother to follow any dreams, Mia obtains the american dream, just like the actress portraying her.
12. Only Artists who Dream Are Truly Making the Most Out of Life
As I was grading this movie, one thing in particular struck me: the only completely realized characters with believable relationships and character arcs are the two ridiculously attractive leads. They both act all charming and innocent, the embodiment of what everyone wants their ideal romance to look like. Whereas everyone else comes off as cold and heartless, even deliberately expressing how little of a hoot they give about their dreams. Other characters do have more rounded personalities, such as Keith and Sebastian’s sister, but only to throw in roadblocks to his success. Since Mia and Sebastian both have fully realized dreams, they are the only ones in the world truly living.
13. You’ll Get What You Want in the End, Even if it Means You End Up Celebrating it Alone
The two definitely did not end up together in the end, instead living separate lives, having achieved their dreams. It sounds like the push forward we all need to make the most out of our sad little lives, yet in truth, it encourages the heavily materialistic worldview which people all over, especially in LA, submit to. La La Land could have had a happy ending where Mia and Sebastian each give up their dreams to help one another, but it instead makes them abandon one another, as music and movies are supposedly more important than people. Ironic, one of the movie’s more prevalent themes draws the line between fantasy and reality, and yet it fails to draw the line within itself. In real life, people have to give up their dreams when crisis interferes; mother gets cancer, it is time to drop ambitions of being an expert pianist and take care of her; a neighbor’s house gets demolished by a natural disaster, it is time to quit ballet lessons to help the family recover. Life is full of moments where you must prioritize another’s health over your selfish pride.
Then finally, there is the issue about the amount of Oscar praise it got. It was nominated for a record 14 nominations, one tied with All About Eve (a movie about prideful actors) and Titanic (a movie with a selfish protagonist), both Best Picture winners. Throughout the awards season, La La Land was the front-runner for Best Picture, as it took home all the other awards, including a record-breaking number of Golden Globe wins. So it was expected to beat the eight other nominees on Oscar night. Of course, we all know what happened.
Hidden Figures wants to inspire us with the true story of Black women working for NASA.
Fences wants to depict a poor Black family in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement.
Lion wants to raise funds to help orphaned children across the world.
Arrival wants to use a UFO landing as an allegory to human communications.
Hell or High Water wants to utilize the Hollywood western to depict issues on bank heists.
Hacksaw Ridge wants to educate us about the incredible achievements of a WWII pacifist.
Manchester by the Sea wants to tell a story about grief and self-forgiveness.
Moonlight wants to realistically portray the life of a poor Black gay boy.
La La Land wants to revive jazz.
All of the other nominees (except probably Hell or High Water) have a proper mindset to help people in need, whereas La La Land just cares about whatever makes America the laughing stock of the world. It wants to make Hollywood great again, whilst making America white again.
Yes I know, you’re ready to lash out at me and tell me I’m wrong. I still love La La Land as simple entertainment. I understands its prevalent flaws, and its horrendously misleading view on reality, but several of my favorite movies teach skewed morals: Aladdin, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Graduate, Men in Black, Mrs. Doubtfire, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and others. Thus, i want to emphasize the importance of acknowledging the bad aspects of a film, but focusing on the good. Because La La Land still has plenty of great aspects:
- Encourage others to be their very best. Both Mia and Sebastian care deeply for the others‘ well being and happiness, which too many marriages lack.
- Stop being so passive, it is good to set personal goals. Nobody likes a coaster with no plan. Just remain flexible when conflicts arise.
- Landing a job is not easy for anybody entering the workforce. I am right now looking for a steady full-time job, and am not finding much luck with it right now. We live in a hard time for young adults in the United States, and Damien Chazelle captured what it feels like to a tee.
- The film itself took risks worth taking, a couple of behind-the-scenes looks on the opening number show how big of a risk it was, but it turned out great! Too many movies and artists these days play it safe, so it is a breath of fresh air to see these more creative thinkers.
- Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling fit their parts well. Everyone complains about their inability to sing and dance, but to be frank, their ability is not nearly as important as their command upon your sympathy. While Ryan’s voice makes me want to rip my ears off, Emma has such a sweet and somber tone to her singing voice that makes me love her character even more.
- This movie profoundly moves you with the characters. When they are sad, you feel sad with them. When they are happy, you feel joyful too. When they are caught in an argument, you feel placed in the heat.
- Movies like this never get made anymore. In a time when everyone in Hollywood would rather think with their wallets than their heads, we could use a movie that is both financially successful and made with the audience in mind.
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