I love musicals. Some of my earliest memories include my mother tap-dancing around the kitchen singing songs to me from Bye Bye Birdie, Grease, or her own version of Singin’ in the Rain. My mom used to call me into the room anytime The Sound of Music was playing on TV, because that musical was my favorite. As I got older and began to discover other musicals, I became lost in the amazing range of talent within musical theater. From Newsies, to Fun Home all the way to (of course) Hamilton, musicals have been a truly integral part of my life. So when I heard about the new musical movie, La La Land, I was more than excited to let another musical into my heart.
I’m going to just come out and say it – I hated La La Land. With all of the hype building around this movie for the past few months, I was convinced that this movie was going to be as life changing as every critic and everyone else said it was. I talked with so many people who claimed that it was an amazing, uplifting film, but I did not find it that way in any regard. With all of the Golden Globes that it won this year, leading into all of its Oscar nominations, I went into that movie excited and left very disappointed, and frankly, angry.
If there is one thing that stands out from my years of musical loving, it is the feeling that musicals have the ability to transport someone to a place of wonder and awe. They can teleport us from our world into the world of the story, even if the location is still seemingly real. We trust musicals’ writers and actors to take us to a place where we will be able to suddenly feel music build around us, and we’re changed by that music. In this regard, La La Land does not provide what I would argue is one of the most important parts of musicals- music that is not only storytelling but also magic in the way it shapes us. There is no song that really stands out in that movie, nothing that captures the audience’s ears and leaves them breathless.
Another component to the puzzle of musicals is this concept of new ideas, and representing or bringing to light something for the first time using the social voice of theater. Kinky Boots, Fun Home, and Rent all voice LGBTQ+ issues. The Color Purple and Hairspray talk about racial issues, and bring light to stories that are not often shared. The umbrella of musical theater is filled with representation of people and stories that rarely get told. When it comes to La La Land, this is a storyline that has been done a million times and should not be seen as anything that is going to help spark discussion or change.
Two white people of opposite genders fall in love and both are chasing dreams in Los Angeles. Being white and straight, they do not face any issues or battles. How many times has this storyline been done? How often have we seen this trope? Too many times. What sort of new opinion or new view is being brought to light with respect to this idea? Whose life is being bettered by the tale this is telling? When the entire storyline is about chasing dreams, you cannot try to pass the idea that it is a new and original thought. This has all been done before.
In the end, this film seemed to be adored by the industry because it was a movie glorifying the industry, and putting such a positive spin on the entire process of making it in entertainment. Anything that spins the business in a good light and makes them money is good enough for them, and since La La Land managed to do that- of course they will glorify it.