Sunday Feb 26, 2017. 5 pm. On this Oscar Eve, I plan to whine and complain for up to 900 words about something that just doesn’t matter – a mediocre movie. And I want to do it NOW because I’m afraid that the Academy is going to reward a bunch of white people for doing an average job. So maybe it does matter. A lot.
Remember that thing going around Facebook a couple months ago? Something to the effect of “State your personal nonpolitical opinion that you know will be unpopular.” My contribution at the time was (cough) that I tried to read the Harry Potter series (twice) and (throat clearing) didn’t really like it. Sorry. I hope we can still be friends.
Here’s another unpopular opinion: I didn’t like La La Land either.
Ace, The Big E, and I went out, all three of us, to the movies. This may have been the very first movie that the whole family attended. Together. Ever. Crazy. We’d heard rave reviews for La La Land, from critics as well as normal people.
What could go wrong? I am the target demographic. A middle-aged woman whose childhood soundtrack included Oklahoma, West Side Story, The Music Man, South Pacific, The Windjammer, Annie Get Your Gun, and I could absolutely go on for several paragraphs thank you Ken Lippin.
During the opening scene, the now-famous singing/dancing-on-the-LA-freeway scene, I waited, waited for that rush when you know you’re in for two hours of something special. Nothing. “How come I’m not loving this?” I thought. Maybe Jimmy Fallon wrecked it for me, with his Golden Globes cold open that was better than the original.
I’m already 268 words in and I can see where this is going so let me turn it into a list of complaints:
1) Mediocre dancing. If you’re going to give a nod to the heyday of the Hollywood musical, remind yourself what Heyday Hollywood looks like, and then seek out the talent that can match it. You could start by hiring actors who can dance. (Yes, I know vintage Hollywood wasn’t perfect. ”Diversity” meant a different woman on Gene Kelly’s arm and lip-synching ((without crediting the real singer)) ran rampant.)
I cringe every time I see the La La Land movie poster. (You can tune out for a couple sentences while I get hyper-critical.) Hand position, body position (Unless you’re doing Lindy Hop, yer bottom shouldn’t be sticking out like that – I’m talking to you, Emma.), hyperextending the arms behind the body (you again, Emma), in-toeing (that one’s on you, Ryan). Argh! Mandy Moore is a talented choreographer. Here are some links that show what she can do with people who can actually dance.
2) Mediocre singing. Seriously? You cast Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in singing roles? Sure, sometimes when you put non-singers in singing roles, things turn out kind-of okay, occasionally even charming. (think Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia) I was not charmed. I wondered if the music itself was bad. Further listening suggested that no, the music’s fine. The singers aren’t. There are many people on Broadway who dance, sing, act, and play the piano every single night, live, in one take. And they’re not all white.
3) No plot. Superficially ill-suited woman and man fall in love while attempting, in a mediocre manner, to follow their trope-ish LA dreams. That’s it.
4) No character development. There is a classic children’s book called Flat Stanley. La La Land featured Flat Sebastian. I’ve seen Gosling in other stuff and I remember that he is capable of at least a modicum of depth. He’s definitely capable of cockiness. Always cockiness. Emma Stone has one shining scene where her character auditions for a role with a one-sided phone conversation. Great acting for all of thirty seconds.
5) Nostalgia run amok. No one cares about LA the way Hollywood cares about LA. The opening scene freeway provokes nothing in me – I’ve never been on it. Ah Meryl – remember back when we were baristas across from Universal Studios? Before you got your big break? Yeah, that never happened to me. If you’re gonna write a masturbatory screenplay loveletter to La La Land, show us why she’s so wonderful! Give us more of the metaphorical Griffith Observatory and less golfcart.
6) If your main man is a jazz pianist whose life goal is to open a jazz club, maybe you should find an actor who can play the piano. Just sayin’. John Legend has a tiny role in the movie. A man who can sing, play the piano, and act has a tiny role in the movie.
7) No chemistry. Mia and Sebastian are supposed to be in love. Stone and Gosling play more like roommates. As long as we’re going for non-singers and non-dancers for a leading lady, how about casting Eva Mendes opposite her sweetie, Ryan Gosling? At least we’d have some chemistry. (Incidentally, Ryan and Emma had great chemistry here.)
8) Disappointing ending. Spoiler alert. They don’t wind up together. I love a happy ending. Or a satisfyingly tragic ending. I don’t love an average ending. Well, we had some good times. You go your way, I’ll go mine. Speaks to #7. Can a man never follow a woman who is following her dream? Can her dream never take (at least temporary) precedence? Note to Seb: there’s some killer jazz in Europe.
Update: It’s 11:27 pm. It’s over. And thank goodness Moonlight won (after a spectacular snafu in which the award initially went to La La Land? How does this stuff keep happening? I couldn’t watch…)!