Christian Ziolkowski ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
This past December, as the atrocity known as 2016 was coming to an end, La La Land rolled into our multiplexes and swept Hollywood off of its feet. The candy-colored spectacle, full of raw emotion and fantastic original music, was just what the world needed. It reintroduced us to the movie musicals popular in Hollywood’s golden age, honoring the genre without ever feeling dated. Entertainment for the sake of entertainment, but executed to perfection, La La Land made our hearts sing. After years of dark films sweeping the Oscars, Damien Chazelle’s masterpiece became a refreshing frontrunner.
Then came the haters.
No need to be surprised. We live in a society that loves to watch people rise to success, only to shoot them down once they get there. So, as La La Land began to take the world by storm, detractors started crawling out of the woodwork. Despite the fanfare that has followed this film since its release, some people were pulling for it to lose Best Picture tonight. This is why the Academy got it wrong.
A common criticism of La La Land is that it is simply pandering to Hollywood. It’s been said that the plot is slightly too cute, relying too much on clichés to move forward. Critics have begun to call it a self-congratulatory victory lap for the film industry. But they’re missing the point. Yes, La La Land is an homage to the creative process and all of the good that comes from art. But it is also an honest look at the hardships that hit people who are trying to pursue their dreams. La La Land channels the feel of the golden age of Hollywood, complete with bright colors, lavish musical numbers, and couples meeting in incredibly cute ways. But it uses that feeling to tell a story about the internal battle between love and a career that so many professionals face. The film is simultaneously warm with nostalgia and darkly bittersweet.
Another critique of La La Land is that it is somehow racist. That is because Ryan Gosling’s character is obsessed with jazz music, an art form created by African-Americans, the film is impairing progress in Hollywood. But that is missing the point. Gosling plays a man who is obsessed with an art form that none of his peers appreciate. His flaw that sets him back in life is his inability to compromise his art. And when he finally does begin to play mainstream music, it is with the help of a musician played by John Legend. Controversy has stemmed from the fact that the only African-American actor in the film is a “villain” who encourages a musician to sell out. But John Legend is anything but a villain. His views on music differ from the protagonists, but he is undeniably talented and driven to make the world a better place. Stories about how La La Land features “a black man trying to ruin jazz” are missing the point. He is trying to expand jazz’s audience so that it doesn’t die. If anything, he’s saving jazz.
Over the last few years, there has been a significant push to see more diversity in film, particularly in movies nominated for Oscars. But while this is important, it is equally imperative to not vilify fantastic movies because they are not as diverse. La La Land is inarguably a fantastic movie. It is hard to imagine any true film lover saying that Hollywood would be better off if La La Land didn’t exist. The fact that excellent, diverse films such as Moonlight, Fences, and Hidden Figures are nominated alongside it shows that progress is being made. But there is nothing progressive about La La Land losing to an inferior film. A truly diverse cinematic landscape is going to include movies like La La Land, and that’s okay.
Whatever way you spin it, La La Land is a singular cinematic experience. It is a visually dazzling, toe-tapping, and at times gut-wrenching journey through a year in the life of two people following their dreams. It may be lighter than other films released this year, but it is no less poignant. Fifty years from now, it will be the movie from 2016 that we’re still watching. It was entertaining to the masses, but that doesn’t make it any less of a triumph. It may be fun to hate La La Land, but the wrong movie walked away with the trophy for Best Picture tonight.