As of writing this review, I’ve seen La La Land about 4.75 times. It’s not a whole five, because one of those times I just snuck into a different theater to listen to the final epilogue song, and my most recent screening yesterday, I just walked stayed for the first two thirds of the film, since I already knew what was going to happen.
So this should give you a pretty accurate understanding of how I feel about La La Land. The fact that I’ve seen it so many times is a testament to how much I love this movie. I was utterly moved the first time I saw it and remained hypnotized by it to see it multiple times again. The songs and sights are breathtaking. The story is simple but powerful. And it leaves you with a resilient sense of hope, that no matter how dreary your life or the world at large may be, there’s always a light that will guide you to the place where your dreams can become a reality.
That magic is most apparent on first screening. Watching it multiple times afterwards, the film’s aura becomes less engrossing, like reheating a leftover pie you brought home from the best pizza joint in town. Still delicious, still fulfilling, but not quite the same as when your first bit into it. La La Land also slogs a bit through its middle after Mia and Sebastian get together. After this point, it’s just really waiting to see if they’ll accomplish their dreams, the journey not nearly as satisfying as its destination.
Still, I love it. It was my favorite movie of 2016 without question, and I think as time rolls on, people will remember it as the best film of 2016. More importantly, it actually makes you feel something, you are a different person when you leave this theater than when you have entered.
The movie isn’t without its criticism, some of it justified, other just bandwagon haterdom. I’d like to take a minute to address the most recurring criticisms I’ve heard about this film and why they aren’t valid:
“It’s just a bunch of white people:” Not true. The opening scene is a testament to the city’s racial diversity. And there are really only three major characters in the whole movie, Mia, Sebastian and Keith, who is played by John Legend, who is black. Sebastian’s sister in the movie is engaged to another person of color. Mia has four roommates, two of whom are ethnically diverse. Sure, either Sebastian or Mia could have been of a more diverse ethnicity. And although I wasn’t looking too closely at the pool party or the dinner scene, there probably could have been more diverse people in that crowd. But, with only three primary characters in the film, one of which is black, and a diverse supporting cast, you can’t really make a strong argument that everyone in this movie is white.
“It’s just a movie about how Ryan Gosling mansplaining Jazz to Emma Stone:” Also not true. If Sebastian was telling Mia how the world acting and Hollywood really works, this would be mansplaining, since Mia knows more about acting than Sebastian does. Sebastian knows more about jazz than Mia does, and thus is a trusted authority role to teach her about it, which is not mansplaining.
“It’s just a movie about Ryan Gosling being the white savior of Jazz:” Still not true. Only two times is something stated close to Sebastian wanting to save Jazz. The first is when he’s at the jazz club with Mia and he mentions that Jazz is dying. The second is when he’s sitting with Keith after his jam session, and Keith says to him something along the lines of “you want to save jazz? Jazz’s days are done.” Still, Keith said this to Sebastian, Sebastian didn’t say it himself. Sebastian’s dream isn’t to save Jazz, it isn’t to become a famous, groundbreaking Jazz musician or die with his body buried on the top of a picturesque hill in a prestigious Harlem Jazz cemetery with the words “HERE LIES SEBASTIAN, THE GUY WHO SAVED JAZZ” on his tombstone. All he wants to do is open up a Jazz club where the music can be appreciated. It also shows why him moving to Paris with Mia wouldn’t work, since he wants to open up his club in LA, not be an actual traveling Jazz musician. You could argue the fact that he named the club after himself supports him wanting to be the savior of Jazz, but you have to remember that naming the club Seb’s was actually Mia’s idea, not Sebastian’s, who was dead set on “Chicken on a Stick.” None of this has to do with him being white. Which brings me to the next criticism, and possibly the most frustrating…
“John Legend’s character should have been the one into Jazz because he’s black:” You’re literally saying that because John Legend’s character is black, he needs to like Jazz, and that Ryan Gosling’s character can’t like it because he’s white, or that he should like the music Legend’s character plays more. By the logic of this argument, someone needs to tell Darius Rucker he can’t play country music anymore, and remind me to email Eminem letting him know that he’s white and therefore can’t rap. This is stupid and offensive, you are literally saying that someone has to like a certain type of music or can’t like a certain type of music because of the color of their skin. The second part of this criticism is based on the notion that Jazz is an exclusively black music genre, which it isn’t. Jazz definitely has very strong roots in black culture and history, and a strong argument can be made that began as a solely black music but then evolved into an American music, and really has become a global music. Jazz was heavily influenced by black culture, more so than any other culture, but it belongs to everyone. There is no color or racial authenticity that one needs to achieve or hold to play or appreciate Jazz.
“The scene where Mia freaked out after watching Sebastian play the more contemporary music with Keith’s band was silly:” Ok, this one is legitimate.
What’s frustrating is that these flawed criticisms have become so commonplace that is has lead people or adopt a group think mentality as to why the movie is bad, or to not even see the movie at all. It is the movie-going version of peer pressure, and it’s really stupid that that’s a thing that actually exists. If there is something you naturally dislike about La La Land, something that stuck out to you that made you not appreciate it, that is perfectly fine, watching movies is a subjective experience and there is no right or wrong way to feel about them. But if you are actively looking to find something you dislike about this movie just for the sake of hating, or are copying and pasting common criticisms you’ve heard online before you even see the film and can accurately formulate your own opinions, then that isn’t ok. Please think for yourself.
If these criticisms show anything, both the ones I gave and the ones commonly given online, it’s that La La Land definitely strikes a strong chord in people and really does make them feel something. You may not think it’s the best picture of last year like I did and that’s fine, but you can’t deny that there is something magical at the heart of La La Land, something that will have made you feel more alive and full of hope long after it has concluded.