'La La Land' Offers Up An Imperfect Dream
“La La Land” doesn't just have Male Writer Syndrome, it has White Male Writer Syndrome, which prevents writer-director Damien Chazelle's film from living up to its glorious premise.
Its faults aren't apparent at first, especially in the irresistible opening number, which is reminiscent of Joss Whedon's own musical offering, the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episode “Once More With Feeling.” Tellingly, it begins before our leads are even introduced, in an LA traffic jam, and is a fun tribute to a city of dreamers, featuring a dazzling array of races, body types, and professions. However, the rest of the film doesn't live up to this promise, and any characters that aren't our two beautiful white romantic leads get pushed to the side.
This is a more serious problem due to the fact that much like Chazelle's last film, “Whiplash,” “La La Land” is about jazz music, or really, about Ryan Gosling's Sebastian. He is the tortured, talented jazz artist trying to keep the tradition alive despite the modern world ignoring it, or even worse, updating it. His character is supposedly so talented he attracts Emma Stone's aspiring actress Mia, whose typical, but totally adorable and relatable frustrations are mounting after one audition after another yields little to no results except rejection and apathy. Luckily, she has Sebastian to continually act like a jerk to her while teaching her about jazz, how to be a real artist, and encourage her to keep pursuing her dreams.
In the end, it is really Ryan Gosling who gets to be the imperfect, struggling hero who is continually told how talented he is, even by John Legend. His dream even involves opening his own club devoted to the traditional jazz he loves. As the film goes on, it becomes less and less of a musical and more about Gosling and his music, and admittedly some truly great visuals. But even Emma Stone feels cast aside by the end, so much so it feels like she's here not due to her clear skills as an actress, but for her chemistry with Gosling in previous films such as “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and the massive flop “Gangster Squad.”
That chemistry is still very much evident, and the early musical numbers and lavish, breathtaking sets guarantee at least a good, if not the great viewing “La La Land” so clearly thinks it is. But making the movie all about a white savior setting out to single-handedly save jazz at the expense of every other cast member in a city as diverse as LA is just too crass for words. Hopefully for his next film Chazelle can either make the romance as expendable as it was in “Whiplash” or just learn to see beyond himself.