why La La Land is good even if it's not, well, good

With awards season in full-swing, Los Angeles is buzzing with anticipation for the Oscars. The nominees have officially been announced and predictions for winners are practically swirling in the streets. With seven Golden Globe awards and now fourteen academy awards nominations, there is one film that seems to be taking over the city this awards season: La La Land. With so many awards already under its belt and a rapidly growing fan base, I had to watch it for myself. I sat down for what I thought would be two hours and eight minutes of musical-theater-nerd heaven, ready to get on board with the rest of the world as a La La Land fan. 

But that didn’t quite go exactly as I was expecting. I was, in a word, disappointed. Elementary dance moves, unimpressive vocal performances, and low-stakes plot lines were just a few of the problems I had with this film. In a city like LA that’s bursting with bright young talent backed by years of intense performance training, it hurt me to see two actors who are skilled in neither song nor dance star in this film. Throw a stone anywhere within a fifteen mile radius of downtown and you’ll hit someone with more musical theater finesse than these two had. Not to mention the mostly white cast in a film that’s supposed to portray one of the most diverse cities in the entire country. La La Land had all the pieces of a great musical, sure. Beautiful faces, bright colors, and breakout song-and-dance routines were all present in this film, but they didn’t come together in a way that really worked.

Emma Stone’s acting was, however, amazing. Her performance alone was the sole reason I even finished this film, and at the end of the day I’m glad I did. Because while I didn’t feel that this movie was good as a viewer, it was, in a different sense, good for Hollywood.

The thing is, Hollywood studios have figured out a formula that works for ticket sales and like to stick to it. While I can understand not wanting to take the gamble on films with $100 million+ budgets, at some point we need to change it up a little. The formula that once drew audiences into theaters now feels stale and predictable. And that’s where La La Land came in and broke barriers.

 This film is important because it took so many risks. Even if I didn’t personally think it lived up to all the hype, I am proud to see not only Hollywood but audiences across the country embrace such a nontraditional film. The decision to film in cinemascope, a story that doesn’t give you the happy ending you’re used to (and at this point, expecting), surreal scenes that broke the barrier between reality and imagination, and exciting camera angles and tracking shots were all risks that went outside the typical Hollywood studio film structure. The filmmakers trusted their audience to understand their vision and go along on the journey. And, obviously, that willingness to try something different was well-received.

My hope is that studios now see that modern audiences hunger for change, and start financing more films that challenge the traditional framework we’re all so used to. I hope they see in their profits that embracing that change can be not only good for artists but profitable for studios as well. And I hope that audiences across the country will continue to support these films that take risks so we all can enjoy more diversity and creativity in filmmaking.

Taylor Byers