Is LA LA LAND the 'Pokemon Go' of movie references?
First up, spoilers below….
If you saw the Golden Globes this past Sunday, then you know that LA LA LAND swept the awards show with 7 wins including Best Picture (Musical or Comedy), Best Director for Damien Chazelle, and best actor wins for Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. The film is wowing audiences worldwide and is generating near universal praise for its effervescent throwback to classic Hollywood of yore.
But, not everyone is praising the film. One such person is Lee Tran Lam, a writer for The Age, who wrote an op-ed where he proclaims Awards front runner LA LA LAND as a terrible film, which will probably sweep the Oscars anyway. He goes as far as calling the film, “the Pokemon Go of movie references” (more on that later).
Although he considers both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as charismatic leads that could make a tax instruction video watchable, he felt the film would’ve been better served with better trained dancers and singers like Anna Kendrick or Justin Timberlake.
There’s also the comparison and homages to classic Hollywood musicals like SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and AN AMERICAN IN PARIS.
As writer Sam Twyford-Moore observes, Debbie Reynolds – a 19-year-old unknown with no performing experience – held her own against the legendary Gene Kelly in 1952’s SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN by practicing non-stop for three months before shooting. On set, she danced until her feet literally bled.
In LA LA LAND, the leads awkwardly shuffle and fling their limbs – there’s no exhilarating sense of wonder at seeing performers achieve near-impossible movements.
Tran also compares the only memorable song in LA LA LAND to an overused ad jingle:
The only “memorable” track is the one featuring the “City of stars/are you shining just for me?” line and merely because Ryan Gosling sings it over and over again – it sticks in your head through ad-jingle-like repetition, not because it’s a strikingly original song. Besides, aren’t they basically lyrics from a Coldplay song?
And of course, Tran also touches on the matter of race in LA LA LAND or the “blind spot about race” in the film:
As musician Rostam Batmanglij tweeted, the idea of a white man “saving” jazz (as Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian aims to do) is questionable and the film’s only black character of note, Keith (John Legend) is depicted as a sellout for wanting to do something vaguely modern with jazz. Apparently adding some synths and back-up dancers makes you a sellout!
Batmanglij also questioned why there were no gay characters in La La Land. This seems bizarre (and out of step) for a musical set in LA in 2016.
There’s also the overuse of nostalgia in the film, where everything that is old is classic and aside from the fact that there is a YouTube clip and smartphones in the film, LA LA LAND portrays itself as “timeless:”
Seeing how keenly the film romanticises the past, perhaps it’s unsurprising that it resembles a relic. What are Mia’s acting inspirations? NOTORIOUS, CASABLANCA and BRINGING UP BABY (all made before 1947). Their first date? A 1950s film screening.
And Sebastian’s fixation with long-dead jazz greats sparks this spot-on criticism via John Legend’s Keith: “You’re so obsessed with Kenny Clarke and Thelonious Monk. Those guys were revolutionaries. How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist?”
Tran also complains how two key plot points hinge on characters forgetting important dates — as if no one has heard of a diary (or has iCal on their phones). Mia tries to make herself known by staging a one woman show that hardly anyone attends. Tran argues that if it was any other character in 2016, he/she would’ve just uploaded it on YouTube and become a viral hit.
Even with all these criticisms, not only by Tran but countless many others, why is the film getting near universal praise and Oscar sweep predictions before the official Oscar nominations have even been determined?
Tran posits the following, including comparing the film to Pokemon Go:
Is it because it’s indulgent cinephile-bait? It rewards in-the-know critics, but really it’s the Pokemon Go of movie references: See how many self-congratulatory film allusions you can collect. (FUNNY FACE, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, and THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG are among the many titles it pays tribute to).
But for a musical obsessed with classics, it unfortunately comes across as a pale imitation of the greats it tries to imitate. Gosling swings by a lamppost, like in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, but has none of the unstoppable exuberance of Gene Kelly splashing through a downpour, soggy shoes be damned.
In other words, LA LA LAND is a film about the movie magic of Hollywood, the land of dreams and as past wins for THE ARTIST, ARGO and BIRDMAN prove, the Academy voters can’t resist congratulating each other.
Agree? Disagree? Write your comments below…