La La Land: A Defence of the Musical


The last few weeks I have read many negative comments online about La La Land’s recent success at the Oscar nominations. So in true english/film student fashion I knew I had to check this film out for myself. And you know what, I loved it. Bright colours, upbeat jazz music, Emma Stone singing and Ryan Gosling playing piano in a vintage suit, what more could you want?

I understand that it is not as ‘important’ as the majority of oscar-bait films. I would say Hidden Figures is more important in the respect that it is a true story about three black women succeeding in the scientific field. That is important. And with racial and gender tensions in their current rocky state, we cannot stop celebrating the achievements of minorities and women.

But some critics are saying La La Land is not worthy of awards as it is a ‘mere’ musical. So what? What is this ‘mere’ness? Musicals are great. Who cares that the characters are flawed and the script is a little cheesy. And I know that people randomly bursting into song and are somehow instantaneously able to synchronise choreography with strangers in the street can be quite unsettling for someone who didn’t go to Saturday morning theatre group as a child. But why do we feel the need to analyse musicals in the same way we would a film about slavery or gender or racial inequality. They are different, they serve a different purpose.

Political or historic films are there to teach us new ways to look at the world, to remind us of where we’ve gone wrong in the past, or to make us question our own values and morals. As HairsprayLes Misérables and Billy Elliot prove, musicals can do this too (and that’s why they are such great films). But La La Land doesn’t offer much in terms of deep thought. Let’s be honest, its a fairly predictable romance, with a good soundtrack, bright colours and not much in terms of character depth but that does not matter. What matters is it makes a lot of people happy.

Despite the somewhat wistful ending, my friend and I tap danced and twirled our way through the Odeon cinema lobby and all the way home – an interesting sight to passers-by as neither of us can actually tap dance. But we tried our best and we laughed. So if a film can bring you that level of joy, why should it be criticised for being ‘empty of meaning’? Surely sometimes film should just be about pure enjoyment. And being absorbed into La La Land’s beautiful cinematography was truly an enjoyable experience.

If you want a film that will change your perspective on life… this is not the one. However, if you long for two hours of pure escapism from the real world then this film is perfect. Tickets for live theatre are becoming more and more expensive and almost inaccessible to the average family but La La Land brings the theatrical spectacle to the more affordable big screen. So if you wish to immerse yourself in beautiful music, spectacular costumes and sets then I would recommend this adventure to the ‘City of Stars’. And if you’re familiar with the old school ‘classic’ Hollywood musicals you’re in for a treat – try and spot as many references as you can, it’s packed full!

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