Halfway through "La La Land," I was already sick of it.
I had at first appreciated the music, the talk of forgotten dreams and unresolved ambition, and I thought the romance popping up between the two main characters was cute. And then they got to that ridiculous observatory scene where Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are floating around the observatory, dancing, quite literally, in the air, and it was just too much. The scene dragged on, making it out as though two lost-in-time straight white middle-class creatives falling in love was something revolutionary. What had been interesting at the beginning slowly turned into a film that felt unrealistic- very few people can dress like Emma Stone's character, what with all her 1940s sundresses and heels, and live a normal life, and if I have to watch one more movie about a white guy trying to "save" jazz, I might just have to go into film myself to do something about it.
The film was good, cute, mildly interesting, but it wasn't something I expected all this wild hype to emerge from. It was a relatively mindless and enjoyable two hours of my life, but not the kind of film that made me leave the theater wanting to change the world, not the kind of film that filled me with strong emotions or inspiration. It felt as Hollywood as you could get, which perhaps is the point, considering it's a movie about Hollywood as it is- or at least, as characters in the position which Gosling's and Stone's are can imagine it to be. While the film is meant to be about their struggles to make it as artists, their success seemed to come fairly easy to them. There was none of the grittiness, the hopelessness, of putting yourself on the line for a dream, and when they finally did achieve their goals, they achieved them in grand proportions, fulfilling the ambitions the characters had come to Hollywood with.
And maybe that's why the film felt like it was selling out to me, continuing to perpetuate this myth that Hollywood (and other big cities where young people go to pursue a dream) is where you can make something of yourself, where you can hope and believe and good things will come to you. But, as one of my professors once said, if you're going to do something great, you're going to have to suffer for it. These characters suffered, but very little, and their suffering felt trivial- outside of their respective ambitions, they lived fine lives. And in the end, they both achieved their goals, even if that meant they didn't get to stay together.
I left the theater tired of hearing about a white man "saving" jazz while the black man "sells out" by adapting the music to fit the modern age. Tired of watching Emma Stone spin around in ridiculous outfits and pretend her life is falling apart all because she might have to pursue an alternative career like many young people eventually do. And when things don't go her way, she gives up and returns to her childhood bedroom, sulking. The main redeeming factor of this film was that they got rid of the cliche that the couple could truly stay together in the end.
So it was a fine film, I suppose, nothing necessarily wrong with it. But in no way was it deserving of all the attention which it received, the 14 Academy Award nominations. Not when there were so many other films that did create that inspiration, that emotion, that escape to another world for a few hours. " La La Land" told a story, sure, but it wasn't a story that was particularly exciting or revolutionary. And the fact that it was up for so many awards, to begin with, demonstrates the whitewashing of Hollywood, the outdated priorities so many major award shows continue to prove.
Which is why it was so important that Best Picture did not go to "La La Land." Why it went to a film with a predominantly POC cast, a film about an LGBT character- the first LGBT film to ever win Best Picture. A film that tells a story that needs to be heard, which is a role that so many films today take on, a role that is more important than ever. We need media that helps us to understand, that makes us expand our horizons and think beyond what we may have experienced, and "La La Land" doesn't do that. And in the world we are living in today, that lack of meaning is what should have never made it a real contender for Best Picture, to begin with, not against films such as "Moonlight," "Lion," or "Hidden Figures," all of which tell stories that the world needs to hear, whether they're willing to recognize it or not.