La La Land ★★★★

Saw this weeks ago but been under NZ embargo, and suspect my reaction would be even more positive if I had written a review at the time and/or hadn't been worn down by the haters, who are legion and seem to take enormous pride in their position. I sincerely get that there are flaws in this film, and I have zero issue with someone filing their "not for me" review and moving on, but I also fully believe that there is a breed of film criticism that is all about taking down sacred cows, and when you're repeatedly complaining that it's risible because it's not as good as SINGIN' IN THE RAIN or THE BAND WAGON (as opposed to what musical of the last thirty years that's better?) or opining, as Richard Brody did, that the movie's "empty" because eg it doesn't devote enough time to Emma Stone's character working with her lighting tech on her one-woman play, the discussion has gone such a way that I don't even feel like entering. It's not about soberly discussing the merits of the film, it's the same fucking bullshit partisanship that renders so many other aspects of American and international life intolerable, where "defending your pre-existing opinion and trying to destroy all opposition" overwhelms "having a reasonable discussion", a partisanship made especially toxic by Twitter, which boosts voices that are pithy and venomous over voices that are nuanced and considered.

Am I acting in bad faith in assuming these critics have an axe to grind, and that their reaction is different than if LA LA LAND had been released in April, to no particular discussion of awards? Perhaps. Or perhaps they're simply trapped by the same economic imperatives that trap people in this film. The easy way to make a living is to do what the system wants, whether it's repackaging jazz for a commercial audience, serving coffee to keep your rent paid while you try to squeeze in auditions, or writing that 800-word pan of a big "Oscar movie" because your editor says it'll get those sweet, sweet hits. And so you write that (fucking endless) pan of a movie instead of dismissing it in 300 words and spending many many more words on creators who are overlooked that would benefit from your attention, but get you and your publication a lot less attention.

And if that makes you happy? I guess it makes you happy. But you mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger.

Anyway, I liked it a lot, and its strengths (including its long takes) distinguish it from the CHICAGOs of the world. If I revisit it, I won't have the world's dumbest embargo, so I can try to defend those strengths cogently from the material on hand. Those looking for dogged neorealism, who hate expressive camerawork and design, and/or who would have only been happy if the leads were the reanimated corpses of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire should probably give LA LA LAND a miss.

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