There are many Hollywood traditions that have fallen by the wayside as time marches on, and there's no denying that the big studio musical is one of them. Like The Artist before it, La La Land sought to breathe new life into a dying medium, and it seems to have succeeded, winning multiple awards across the board and settling itself in to be a dead cert at this year's #Oscars. But unlike The Artist, there's something La La Land is sorely lacking — and that's integrity.
Helmed by superstars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, #LaLaLand tells the story of two starving artists just trying to make their way in the cruel world of showbiz. Together, they struggle to achieve their dreams and stay true to their principles, while balancing a romance for the ages (apparently).
Along the way, Gosling's character Sebastian bemoans how the Jazz Age is dead, "whitesplaining" to his fellow (African American) musicians why updating the genre is helping to kill it. Meanwhile, Stone's Mia works to get her play off the ground, begrudging Sebastian his success and telling him that he should give up his fantastically well paid, exciting gig so that he can sink his earnings into a small jazz bar. It's no surprise, really, when the two are inevitably torn apart by conflicting ambitions, though we are left wondering why — in this modern age of social media and Skype — the two star-crossed and starry eyed lovers can't maintain a long distance relationship.
But these are just quibbles, as the real problem with La La Land is far more insidious — and it speaks to a major problem in our society.
Waiting For Their Big Break
Ultimately, La La Land is about two nobodies waiting for their big break. Mia works in a coffee shop on the Warner Bros. lot, Sebastian tinkles out trite carols on a chain restaurant's piano. Both of them are waiting for their turn in the spotlight — and yet this simple yearning is undermined by the actors who are playing these characters.
Reviews for La La Land may have been mostly glowing, but many critics pointed out Emma Stone's weak singing voice, that she was limited by her short range and cracked on the high notes. At the same time, other articles focused on Ryan Gosling's cheat steps in the tap dance routine, how choreographer Mandy Moore designed the dance around Gosling's rookie skills and kept incorporating the one move he knew how to do. So why on Earth, for a prestige musical feature, did the filmmakers cast people who couldn't sing, dance, and act all at the same time?
That reason, of course, is Gosling and Stone's star power. Instead of casting true triple threats, relative unknown artists trying to break into the industry, the La La Land casting directors went with two of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. And in doing so, they undermined the point that La La Land was trying to make.
Really, how are we supposed to take Mia and Sebastian's struggles seriously when we know how many millions Stone and Gosling made working on the film? How are we supposed to believe that La La Land is critiquing showbusiness, when it just seems to be one big "Hollywood Hand Job" (as Screen Junkies dubbed the movie)?
A Self-Satisfied Lovefest
Instead of showing up Hollywood's flaws, commenting that the industry keeps casting the same actors over and over again, creating a culture that is near impossible to break into, La La Land fell into exactly this trap. Of course, there's a point to be made here about how the studio tent-pole musicals used to rely entirely on the star power of their actors, so in that way La La Land is fulfilling the trend.
But that would only really be a valid counter argument if Stone and Gosling could actually do their jobs well. Yet, Stone struggles to sing and though Gosling does his darndest he's no dancer — and as far as his acting goes he seems to be sleepwalking through the role. Not to mention the fact that, for a character who adores Jazz history and passionately believes in the music, Sebastian really should have been played by an African American actor, seeing as they're the people who invented the genre.
The fact is, instead of fulfilling its own promise and actually giving two starving artists their big break, La La Land gave the parts to two people who couldn't really live up to them. In doing so, La La Land turned from a fond critique of Hollywood into a self-satisfied industry lovefest — and its smugness is only going to increase when it inevitably wins all those Oscars.