Kareem’s review published on Letterboxd:
Warning: I'm not gonna go easy on La La Land, if you really really love the film and it's something you have a big emotional connection to, you don't have to read this, but I promise, I'm not just going to dismiss it, but actually formulate actual arguments, at least as well as I can as a non-english speaker.
I'm just gonna get to the point:
I adore a lot about last year's award sweeper, yet there is just an utterly staggering inherent whiteness to it, that makes it absolutely impossible for me to love it.
It's very frustrating, because I actually think (and I know a lot of people will come for me for saying this), that Chazelle manages to capture the approach to musicals by Jacques Demy (who smartly toyed with and deconstructed the classical musical genre) and transfers latter into modern times...but not quite, because he actually transfers them to a white, detached parallel universe fantasy.
I adore how this film is structured, shot and edited, I like the songs a lot, I'm okay with Ryan Gosling's performance and love Emma Stone's performance.
I don't even think it's that important that the dancing and singing is not that great, since the characters weren't actually attempting to be singers and dancers, it works as expressionist tool and for that it's alright, besides the fact that Chazelle aims for realism (gonna get to that in a bit) in the characters, they are normal people and they don't dance and sing perfectly. Which makes the singing and dancing good enough for what it wants to achieve.
(If their dream and aim actually was singing or dancing and the story went the same way, this would've been obviously terrible, since it would be another story about white mediocrity winning, but without actual conscience.)
I think Chazelle is a decent director, even if there are at times a few too many throwbacks and references, even for it's theme of nostalgia, but there is a very strong basis here for something great.
Let me explain my problem: This film, despite it's musical elements, despite it's magical realism at times, despite it's expressionist sections, tries to ground itself in the real world. It tries to connect to viewers, the dreamers out there, as Chazelle repeatedly told in interviews.
And that doesn't work at all, because Chazelle has a perception of this world, that is utterly narrow-minded and very, very white.
Chazelle focuses thematically on dreams and hopes that seem impossible...for these two white people. For the love of god, what about the dreams and hopes of people of color? What about their obstacles, that are much bigger in Hollywood, a world that is notorious for still preferring white? Chazelle does not consider any of that and makes La La Land, at least in this theme, which is one of the biggest ones of the film, utterly non-universal and thus ultimately irrelevant.
I already saw many people saying that a story can focus on white people's experiences, that not everything has to necessarily be representative in it's characters and it can be still universal...etc. etc. (you should already realize that this isn't working out). La La Land promotes an universal message in theory and on front, yet ignores a huge chunk of people, who have these same dreams and that have to climb incomparably much more obstacles than the ones portrayed here. It basically doesn't consider poc whatsoever and thus tells a narrative of unapologetic privilege.
Chazelle additionally extinguishes any trace of the struggles and experiences poc ever had in the entertainment industry, he reduces jazz and erases it (with the exception of a single, in this context terribly ironic sentence) of it's heritage, which would probably be kinda fine with me in another movie, but the overall picture Chazelle is painting here, is NOT pretty.
I don't think I have to talk about the ridiculous two-dimensionality of John Legend's character, who is the only major poc character and again: I think I could get over this in another film, another context, but this is just a big cluster of utter blindness and ignorance.
Adorno's Aesthetic Theory is a very good point of reference, because he explains why art, while definitely being able to have a certain amount of autonomy, always has to be in touch with societal conditions, because if art makes itself comfortable within it's autonomy, it just affirms certain inhumane circumstances.
La La Land is at it's core especially problematic because it legitimately pretends that it's universal. It's not. At all.
I'm honestly not hating on this movie because I want to hate it or because it's cool.
I actually really wanted to like it for a long time, because I looked forward to it so much before it came out, as the first original Hollywood musical in years with a broad positive critical reception.
So I forced myself to condone all that this movie does so majorly wrong, because I liked pretty much everything else about it a huge deal.
But...it's sadly not the right thing, it's a dealbreaker in this case. Narratives like these who are this heavily exclusionary have to go. I just don't care about supporting them. And neither should you.
Thank you for reading.