Wednesday, January 18, 2017

La La Land (a movie review post)

Let's have an honest moment: I really don't like Damien Chazelle. It's not a personal thing (Probably. Since I haven't met him, that's hard to say, but I did hear him on the radio, and he sounds like an okay guy other than the fact that he can't write and, so, should stop doing that.), but his movies need to go away now. (See my review of Whiplash.) No, I don't care that other people seem to like them. Actually, that's part of the problem. Chazelle's movies are like the Hershey's bars of chocolate: They're fine if that's all the chocolate you have access to but, once you've had good chocolate, you'll realize that Hershey's is kind of waxy and you won't want it again as anything other than a last resort.

Except I never want to see Whiplash again, even as a last resort.

Don't get me wrong, La La Land is a fun movie. Mostly. Fun in a cotton candy kind of way: It's all fluff and no substance. I like Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling just fine, and they do a fine job, but they never really gel. The movies feels like you're watching two people acting as if they are acting they are in love and having a relationship, which adds to the cotton candy-ness of the whole experience. None of it feels real. The whole movies feels as if it's about to dissolve under scrutiny.

I think the thing that most bothers me about the movie is the "message." Sure, it's an actual message, but it's a message that's endemic to our culture of positivity and to Hollywood in particular, so
1. It hardly seems like making a movie about this message anymore is worthwhile (especially since neither of the main characters have to go through any actual hardship (at least not within the action of the movie)).
2. It's a false message.
Oh, the message?
If you just follow your dream, if you're true to it to the exclusion of all else, your dream will come true. Even if it means giving up the "love of your life."

Maybe it's just me, but I'm really sick of that message, because it's not a true message. The problem, though, is that if someone doesn't succeed at achieving their dream, people take the stance, "Well, you just didn't try hard enough. You must have let yourself be distracted by other things." It's like the whole positive attitude with cancer patients, breast cancer especially. There's this pervasive belief that if someone just stays positive that she will beat the cancer. If she dies? She wasn't positive enough. The tragedy? Studies are showing that people who rely on positivity have a lower survival rate. (You can see my review of Bright-sided for more on this. Then go read that book.)

So, yes, the hype this movie is receiving makes me a bit mad. Probably more than a bit. It's so undeserving, especially in relation to all of the other movies, right now. Look, it's not that I have anything against people following their dreams. I'm all for it. I encourage it. However, this idea that if you are just steadfast in following your dream then it will definitely come true is a lie. Many people, people who are doggedly determined in following their dream, never see those things come true, because that's not all that it's about. To lead people to believe that it is is not just wrong, it's cruel. It leads people to believe that, somehow, if their dream doesn't come true then the fault is somehow inside of them, that they did something wrong, when, actually, they may have done everything right.

On top of all of that is this idea that Sebastian is some kind of white savior for jazz. Only he really appreciates it's true form, and only he can save it from extinction. If he can only manage to get his jazz club open. You know, if you "build" it, they will come and all that... wait for it... jazz. I find the whole thing kind of insulting. I mean, not only does he appreciate it more, but he plays it better. So, you know, you have all of these great black musicians in the movie, jazz musicians, but it's the lone white guy who is going to save them.

Give me a fucking break.

So, yes, I don't think La La Land deserved any of the Golden Globes it won, but Chazelle, especially, didn't deserve the awards for screenplay and directing.


  1. I didn't want to see that movie anyway and learning what it's about just makes me not want to see it even more. It seems to me the whitest white people movie ever.

  2. Great review. I hate that message, too, yet I still look forward to seeing this movie. Ryan Gosling looks so much like my lover man, Willy Dunne Wooters.


    1. Janie: Well, it is fun, like I said.
      It just might give you a stomach ache later.

  3. I've been hearing all sorts of stuff about this movie but it seems like only Hollywood types really like it; everyone else seems at best dismissive.

    It's weird about Americans. We tend to look at people who succeed and attribute to them a weird amount of luck (if we dislike them) or a weird amount of work ethic (if we like them.) When we fail, we see it mostly as a set of factors beyond our control, but when others fail we mostly ascribe it to their personal failings.

    So I'm not a famous writer because the system is set up to ignore brilliant creative types like me who 'challenge' the way they think. John Grisham is famous because he got lucky. Nick Harkaway is famous because he works so hard at it. all those other would-be writers who aren't famous? You're not trying hard enough, sorry guys but I call it like I see it.

    It's ridiculous, really.

    But even worse: nothing is more comforting to white people than to see, in giant version, how much all the minorities need us. Why, they wouldn't even have JAZZ if it weren't for Ryan Gosling.

    This movie just sounds like "The Secret" only for people who want to think they're young and cool.

    (PS: I think you are working very hard. You're the writer who hasn't achieved super fame yet because the system is screwing him.)

    1. Briane: The governor of Maine did just tell African Americans that they owe Republicans a "thank you" for freeing them from slavery. You know, quit complaining and be thankful for what we HAVE given you.

      And, yeah, that's us, getting screwed by the system. Don't I know it. And the screws are set to double down, now.

  4. Oh wow! You pulled from the movie the same thing I did. This is so on point. Thanks for pointing out your review of it for me.

    1. MichaelL Yep, that's exactly what I thought when I read your post.