CGB Review of La La Land (2016)

Another day of sun!…even though it is currently cold and cloudy here in Southern California.

This is my review of La La Land!

lalaland

Sebastian Wilder is an aspiring jazz pianist.  Mia Dolan is an aspiring actress.  Their appetite for aspiration and making it big is what brings them together and, after multiple chance encounters, Sebastian and Mia embark on a musical journey as their kinship blooms into romance and beyond.
So…well, this is what has happened: When I first saw La La Land, I loved it!  My inner musical-lover kicked in and I was on board the La La Land express!….AND then I stopped to really think about the movie.  The more I thought, the more the film’s problems came to mind.  After much soul-searching, I realized, “Oh, no, I know what’s wrong with this movie and it is a big problem.”
La La Land is a technical achievement with a toxic relationship at the center of it all.

The Hits
If anything, La La Land is an impressive–most impressive–in terms of its set pieces, costume design and overall look.  The choreography is amazing!   There’s a lot of dance numbers in this film that require some complex moves with multiple dancers, and everyone does a great job in capturing the spirit of the sequences.  The opening number is especially fun to watch and it helps set the tone for the film.
I do appreciate the film’s color palate and, in particular, it’s use of yellow.  Yellow can be a difficult color to work with due to the eye sensitivity of some moviegoers, but the film makes use of the color really well; yellow is used sparingly as an attention-grabber on whatever director Damien Chazelle wants you to look at during a particular moment.
Speaking of Chazelle, between this and Whiplash, I get it–he really likes jazz and Charlie Parker (there’s a Charlie Parker reference in this flick whereas in Whiplash, his name was everywhere).  I like that jazz is not a shoehorned interest of Chazelle’s, but rather it makes sense within the context of the story.  Sebastian could find some work as a pianist, but being a jazz pianist exclusively brings on even more challenges, given that the market for jazz is not very steady, so the audience can sympathize with his frustrations and it is much more satisfying when he does succeeds.  The character who struggles is the one you root for.

The Misses
While Emma Stone’s performance as Mia is very good, the character herself is a problem.  To put it simply, she’s actually quite insufferable.   There’s a scene where she goes home and finds that Sebastian has taken time off from his band and has cooked a nice dinner for her.  During what is supposed to be a sweet candlelight dinner, they discuss Sebastian’s band and Mia is shocked that being a band requires him to be away from home and on tour.  I turned to my friend who accompanied me and whispered, “Well, no duh!  What did you expect?  He’s in a band!”
Let me explain: In my twentysomething years of life, I have had friends who pursued careers in the music industry; most of them got their start by being in a band.  I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with them when they were on tour, but I was supportive and not shocked that they were gone a lot.  I guess my impatience with Mia’s shock about Sebastian being away came from my own experiences with people like him, but still, by that point in the film she had been with him for a significant period of time, so one would think that this reality would have crossed her mind at some point.
Throughout the film, it becomes clear that Mia is attracted to guys who seem to have nothing else going on in their own lives, which explains why she resents Sebastian actually moving forward with his own dreams.  Aside from being shocked that someone in a band doesn’t spend a lot of time at home, Mia (before officially dating Sebastian) ditches another guy who has been established to have his own life set and runs to Sebastian, who at that point in the film is down on his luck.  To avoid spoilers, I will say that Mia is seen becoming nervous when Sebastian’s aspirations take off.  She meets him when he is down and would prefer that he stay there.
Hey, Mia, JP2 called; he would like to hand you a copy of Love and Responsibility.

On one hand, La La Land acts as a love letter to old Hollywood with its camerawork, set design, color palate and approach to romance (there’s no steamy sex scene; it’s mostly implied).  As a musical, it does what it sets out to do and will delight fans of the genre.
On the other hand, the implications of Sebastian and Mia’s relationship make this a queasy watch.  The current dating scene has enough confusion and lack of responsibility already, and glorifying a one-sided relationship where one person’s own dreams outweigh the goals of the other is misleading.

Saint Pope John Paul II, pray for us.

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