Case Against La La Land, Part II

Why I Hate La La Land as an Idea
First, a snapshot of my interior life:
I am a black man. America is the way it is, and the 2016 was the way that it was. I work very hard and I am very tired. Sometimes I have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously. I work very hard to pay my bills. I work very hard on my art, writing and comedy. I work very hard in performance. I do not have the same kind of access or immediate cultural capital that white dudes have, but hey, that’s life and I have bigger shit to worry about I recognize that in many ways, it is harder for me to do anything in this life, because I am a black man. And that kind of racial fatigue makes things even harder, sometimes even in my interpersonal life. I am in love with a lovely woman, and sometimes we fight sometimes about the regular things couples fight about, but its alright because beyond it all, there is an unspoken sense of “ride-or-die.” A sense that our problems are our problems, but the world still turns whether we resolve them or not. Even when we are mad, or stressed, or scared there is an understanding that life is very hard for both of us, and our relationship cannot block our need to cope and survive in this world. There is an ebb and flow.
I think the movie totally lost me on Page 54 wwhich led to the argument where Seb burnt the fucking apple pie. A stupid manufactured conflict that the film did not need. Whether this is true or not, I thought to myself “What an insanely movie white person thing to do. I would never do this, and I don’t know any real white people that would ever get lost in an argument so STUPID that they would burn a fucking pie.” I am not a perfect bastion of morality because of my race…but fuck. They burned a pie for no reason. It’s almost as if the deterioration of their relationship could have been expressed some other musical way…like as if it was a musical film about music….hmmmm…was that fight lazy storytelling?
Yes. The movie goes from bad and benignly racist to lazy.
What pisses me off:
You suggested in your comment that what pisses me off is what the PR team did to promote the film and that it won awards. That’s not the case, my friend. I’m annoyed it won certain awards in catergories like Best Direction & Best Original Screenplay.
What pisses me off is that Barry Jenkins directed 3 different men who never met each other into having the same soul on the camera. Barry Jenkins did literal magic. What pisses me off is that there is a biopic screenplay about grief that is alive, complicated, and all mixed-up in a way that makes you experience the dizzying cycles loss, confusion, rage, horror, and love. Mind you, Jackie wasn’t nominated.
What pisses me off is there is better shit out there.
“Also curious about what makes them selfish and what your thoughts are on being selfish if it fulfills your dreams.”
Nothing wrong with dreams. But I don’t give a shit about their dreams. She is an actress who paid to perform a one woman show in LA. She’s clearly an idiot who deserved to fail.
He is a white savior of black music. They made a movie and installed a white man as the Jesus Christ of black music and they cast John Legend as the devil (who was right, btw, but the film, I guess ignored his point). Do you know, there were black people killed for jazz music? For him to become its Moses is fucking white privilege at it’s best. Look, I broke my new years resolution of not using that phrase.
They do nothing to earn their dreams apart from break up, but become famous and successful anyway. I mean, they’re white, so we expect them to land on their feet. For a movie being pitched to me as the second coming of The Way We Were, I was expecting a more nuanced expression of the tensions between love and success. Maybe they aren’t forces opposed to each other and that’s just a bullshit narrative just to justify the plot rather than having story come from CHARACTER.
Also…what is Emma Stone’s character in this movie? What’s her philosophy on performace? Be Girl? Oh right, she’s girl.
What could have saved the movie
An ensemble would have made this film ACCESSIBLE for all of the non-straight, non-white people out here. This movie wanted to be a modern musical, but was barely a musical (in a way that I could forgive) and it was barely an expression of the world we live in. Unless we are cool with a solipsistic, white centric movie about white people killing it in black artistic spaces.
The elements of the movie that I wanted more of were the themes of success and dreams, and I think a looser grip on the obnoxious romantic subplot could have thickened the stew. Imagine a version of RENT (a retrospectively reductive white liberal musical about cultural tourism) with ONLY Roger and Mimi. NOT GOOD.
It needed a group a viewpoints to challenge the ones we saw. I feel like the current one verged on being didactic. I’d even say, make John Legend a different character, make Ryan Gosling John Legend’s character…cast a white dude as the actor, cast a black woman as the musician…or make them both women in love….it’s my fan fiction, but here are opportunities in CASTING to subvert the norm of more white centric musical universes. You CAN cast gay or Black characters as the focal point of stories and not just marginalize them, LIKE ALWAYS. It’s not just because, these are people that exist and occupy BOTH of those spaces. This enhances the reality and depth that the filmmakers intended.
You say we has “the sister” and “John’s characters” but can you remember both of their names? Can you remember if they had any wants? There was no depth to either of them.
This movie sparked my wrath because I saw it, I don’t have to like it, I don’t have to say nice things about it, but it was uniquely the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. On some level, when we pay to see movies, we participate in a conversation with it. As far as other movies go, Arrival shows how you can do an alien movie without a fight. Moonlight carves out space for a version of masculinity that is tender, pain that holds hands with joy, and love that endures…Moonlight was a truly magical film. And Jackie is just a silent rollercoaster of simmering drama that never pushes you or manipulates you when it can draw you in. It’s an american tragedy and Natalie wears so many masks in it. Fuck and Fences is just Denzel and Viola going to work…a portrayal of black life that speaks the way we do. And movies about my people or other peoples people do no get the BACK FLIPS that La La Land has gotten. And it’s because of white people shit, and in a world with so much white people shit out there, I’m going to hate this one because it makes me feel good.
La La Land did not even try in include me in the conversation. La La Land was shat into the world and over the course of 2 hours tried to convince me that I did not exist.
And so here we are. I’m still in the office, wondering if this essay was a waste of my time. Probably not. I don’t want to make you or anyone reading this hate this movie.
I hate this movie. On January 20th, Trump becomes president. The day after, my sister becomes 24. Life will go on. My hating will power my creating, and I will do my best not to watch TOO many movies where white people deadass be fucking up cause even though they got the head start they still wanna be dumb AF.
And now please read my poems.

2 thoughts on “Case Against La La Land, Part II

  1. shirley says:

    lol just because you won’t burn an apple pie in an argument with your girlfriend doesn’t make it an exclusively white people thing to do. i’m saying this because i think you are a bit harsh in judging that scene. i see your point about how success came easily to both of them (you said because they were white, i am not disagreeing but i also don’t think that’s the point. win hidden figures the main characters also succeeded – why doesn’t that bother you? just because they aren’t white?i think there are just more movies about people succeeding because that’s more interesting to watch). besides that i thought the movie did a good job of showing quite a few failed auditions that Mia went to before the successful one, and the main relationship of the film was one that have failed, which was at least somewhat surprising to me. one of my favorite scenes in the film was at the end when seb went to mia’s house and almost drove away as she was trying to get on the car with ice coffee and then they both pretended like that awkward moment never happened. i liked that the movie was cheesy but self-aware so it pulled back from full-on cheesiness and i thought that was a new element that this film (being a musical) had attempted. but maybe i just haven’t seen enough good musical films

    • Hi Shirley, thank you for your response!

      The apple pie line, is more of a joke. My issue there is less about the burning pie, and more about what the scene means within the entire film. It’s a conflict that does not feel truly earned. It feels like a rushed dilemma, and I think the ending of the film serves the plot and not the characters, or the more nuanced ideas about passion and success that were previously established.

      Regarding the comparison to Hidden Figures, I think both films are different things. La La Land is packaged as an Oscar bait film. Hidden Figures is ostensibly a kids movie, nothing very complex, racism is bad, science is good… you feel me? But a movie is still a movie, and all movies carry with them a kind of social context. The social contexts of both films are VERY different. So the ideas of “success” work differently in both films. In La La Land, you may have been unconcerned with the intersections between their social-economic identities and success in their time period. Whereas in Hidden Figures the movie is all about how these women struggle to be recognized in their respective fields. La La Land does not need to be burdened by the weight of politics and success because the film is about two white characters in modern day. However race and gender are the things blocking the Hidden Figures protagonists from their goals, so when they succeed, it is IN SPITE of their race and gender. So the movies are very different in that regard. So in short, it doesn’t bother me, because being a white man or woman in 2016 is different from being a black woman in 1960.

      I don’t really know if there are more movies about success than failure, and TBH, I could care less about those ideas. What makes a movie compelling is that “how they get there” part. Even if the characters “fail” in one sense, they “succeed” in another. The Hidden Figures protagonists still deal with a lot of gender/racial bullshit after the movie ends. The La La Land heroes entire 3rd act is about a failed relationship. The interesting thing, in my opinion, with any kind of movie, is how success or failure changes the characters worldview. Character is what draws you in, this is why people watch shit like Breaking Bad for 5 seasons.

      Regarding how La La Land portrayed success/failure: I think even though they go out of their way to show how Mia fails, they don’t really do a whole lot to show us why she “deserves” to succeed. Is she actually good? Does she have a unique perspective on performance? What does her art mean to her beyond just being famous? Is it the only thing she can do? They have that one scene where she has a magical “good audition” but I don’t think this scene really shows growth in a meaningful way. And maybe that’s just the fickle nature of success as an actor. Maybe she doesn’t need to grow to be successful. Maybe she doesn’t need to change her want. But then why should I be invested if she stays the same throughout? Because the movie, even though it tries not to be, is about Ryan Gosling, the neo-bop savior of a dying black art form. New things are actually happening in jazz, but Ryan Gosling, for some reason, knows how it should be.

      The movie’s cheezyness I think is an issue only in that the movie wavers between homage and subversion in a way that feels indecisive. The idea of a restrained musical where naturalistic language with absurd non-diegetic tangents is also something we’ve seen before a few films. The acting style is very “Once” (even though that one is more diegetic). But The Get Down also plays with this style of ebb and flow between reality and fantasia. Heck, even (500) Days of summer does this.

      ALSO The Last Five Years is the same kind of story and equally good. I will email you a list of better stuff to watch:

      1. Guy & Madeline On A Park Bench
      2. The Last Five Years
      3. Once
      4. Singin’ In the Rain
      5. Chicago
      6. Cabaret
      7. Sing Street

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