Even with the nightmare blunder of the wrong statue being given to the wrong production team, it’s hard to argue that Damien Chazelle hasn’t had a tremendous hit with La La Land.
However, as we sat and enjoyed a Saturday afternoon trip to La La Land with our wives at the Cineworld in Glasgow, we were struck by something odd about the claim that La La Land is a love letter to Hollywood.
Despite the colourfully musical attempt to dazzle the eye and distract the mind from the truth, there’s very little that’s uplifting/inspiring about the place, the industry or its people. Actually, it isn’t a Love Letter at all, it’s a scathing critique, a poison pen letter to Make Believe Town.
And Hollywood seems to have read this movie as a celebration. But it isn’t. It really isn’t.
And here’s why:
Although the characters achieve the success they seek, to seek and find their artistic goal - they are ultimately left miserable.
Mia (Emma Stone) and her friends attend vacuous/glamorous parties for the sole purpose of networking, which is tough for them after working long hours in low paid jobs, where they are shown little respect. Even when do get an audition, they are treated like cattle.
The characters are trapped between having their dream and having nothing - as if just being a jobbing actor/musician is somehow failure.
The message of the movie seems to suggest that being an artist means sacrificing what’s important to you - in the case of Mia and Seb (Ryan Gosling) it means their relationships. And even though both of them achieve high levels of success (as if Hollywood fame is the only measure of success in the arts), they still aren’t happy, as they lose their relationship with each other in the process.
From Seb’s point of view, giving the audience what they want is a kind of selling out. But he must be seen to suffer for those principles. When Seb tries to be what he thinks Mia wants, she calls him a sell-out. When she finally has the chance to reach the success she craves, Seb refuses to join her in Paris. Because giving up his thing for her is simply impossible for a Hollywood leading man.
In the simplest sense, it is a story about ego. Two selfish people put their careers first. Worrying about their image, particularly how others perceive them. Hardly a glowing recommendation of the life of Hollywood’s major players.
To us, Chazelle’s message is far from a love letter. To us, what’s left is a scathing message about Hollywood’s need for nostalgia, while constantly craving novelty in all the wrong places. A scathing attack on the vague, selfish, vacuous, people of Hollywood and their shallow, ego-driven lives in a place that is too hot, and devoid of anyone fat, disabled, or less than gorgeous.
All this is covered over with clunky harmonies, stunning backdrops, impressive tap-numbers and a sprinkling of saccharin smiles.
La La Land portrays Hollywood as a nostalgic, colourful, musical of the Golden Age. But behind the rose-tinted glasses, there’s something more insipid and darker about what counts as success and the price - what you are willing to suffer for it - something Chazelle already explored masterfully in Whiplash.
COACHES NICK AND MARK