Final Grade: B
La La Land is a musical starring Emma Stone (with noticeably corrected eyes) and Ryan Gosling, which hearkens back to the musical love stories of 1940s Hollywood. Love is beautiful, dreams come true, and, in the 21st century remix, Black people exist and live together in harmony with White people.
I had two favorite scenes. First, when the main character, Seb, is on a bridge pondering in song whether the stars are smiling down and bringing love to him, he encounters a Black couple. A full-figured older woman and her husband sway lovingly together against the backdrop of the setting sun. It was a very minor moment. But there was a specialness to it for me.
Second, the scene where the leads, moving towards their attraction to one another, go to the movies. In the moments before their likely first kiss, their fingers brush on the seat armrest. Then we see their fingers gradually interlace. It was a gesture that conveyed the tenderness and tremulousness of their feelings. Lovely.
One other beautiful thing this movie gave us was jazz. Whenever there was jazz, the heart of the movie began to beat. I especially appreciated the one musical piece that repeatedly drew the lovers together. It is fittingly called, “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme.” Listen to this 1:38 minute clip (and the unbelievable grand-piano-quality sound of the electronic keyboard being played):
“Mia and Sebastian’s Theme” is a gentle, lush, complex song, and every scene where the song appears is captivating. Jazz was unquestionably the scene-stealing star of this movie.
Another plus was the regular inclusion of Black bodies in a movie not expressly intended for Black audiences. Hooray for employed Black actors!
Overall, though, this was not a great movie.
The lead singing is meh. Everybody is on key, but the sound is soulless. The songs sung are meh. Completely forgettable. The dancing is meh. The leads were achingly lacking in grace. Watching them, one had the sense that they began filming with no prior knowledge of what it is for a body to be moved by and with and to music; that they were hard pressed to dance, while singing, and also acting.
The real problem with this movie, though, is that our lived realities in these trumptastic times are so tense with drama that the tepid plot points of La La Land could not compete. There is a frivolity to the movie that feels inappropriate to our moment.
I can only surmise that the movie’s great appeal is due to mainstream America being desperate for this particular kind of racially-reconciled, cotton-candied, nostalgic, singing and dancing to assure them that everything will be, if not perfect, at least just fine.