I’m so excited. It’s Oscar season. My Facebook feed is now only 95% politics and 5% movies, which is a delineation I am ALMOST comfortable with. Finally, movie-goers like myself are no longer the old school, retro-experience-loving misfits we usually are, but are now joined by the rest of people who… kind of want to see some of the movies so they’ll at least have a pony in the race at their Oscar party. I’m not complaining. COME JOIN US. The water’s fine. And oh so buttery.
And this is ACTUALLY an interesting year. Past years of nominated movies and performances have been met with every sort of reaction from “ehhh” to “oh!” But I gotta say, it’s going to be an exciting race. There’s a lot to root for. It’s an eclectic bunch, spanning lots of genres, storytelling styles, and melanin-levels of the protagonists’ skins.
Nominated for eight awards each, best picture nominees include “Moonlight,” the simmering piece of poetry looking at one African-American man’s life at three different chapters, and “Arrival,” the understated sci fi thriller where Amy Adams tries to teach empathy to aliens.
Closely behind at six nominations are “Lion” (Dev Patel WHO AM I movie), “Hacksaw Ridge” (blow-em-up war movie about a pacifist starring Andrew Garfield and nabbing a surprising Best Director nom for documented anti-Semite Mel Gibson OK HOLLYWOOD) and “Manchester by the Sea” (Please forget about my sexual abuse allegations. Love, Casey Affleck).
With four nominations we have “Fences,” which Denzel Washington I’m PRETTY SURE made specifically so back-in-time theatre major Alisa could die happy, and “Hell or High Water” aka pretty boys shoot things. With three, “Hidden Figures” in which all of my lady crushes are on screen at the same time being badass and doing math. And lastly, let us not forget “La La Land,” up for a whopping FOURTEEN ACADEMY AWARDS. THE SAME AS “TITANIC.” AND NOTHING EVEN CRASHED AND SANK IN THAT ONE. EXCEPT FOR EMMA STONE’S SINGING TALENT I KID I KID.
“La La Land” has been crushing box office numbers and sweeping up awards left and right, yet has taken on HUGE backlash. From the moment those adorable “La La Land” ads featuring a classic looking Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dancing hit the pre-Christmas ad-landscape, it was suddenly en vogue to hate this charming movie. And why is that? This is a movie TAILOR MADE to the things I PERSONALLY like. Musical? CHECK. Comedy? CHECK. With some drama? CHECK. A love story? CHECK. Ryan Gosling? CHECK PLEASE. With references to old Hollywood and a charming portrayal of the things I actually like about LA and spontaneous tap dancing, I was SO EXCITED to see this movie on Christmas Day. Which I did, with the 400 other Jews who decided to go home to their parents’ houses in Arlington Heights. And for some reason, the packed-ness of the theater, and the grumpy intensity to which people HAD TO GET TICKETS TO “LA LA LAND” AND ONLY “LA LA LAND,” and my stepdad openly snoring through three quarters of it, all instantly rubbed me the wrong way. And why is that? Why is this movie’s success a thing that is making me so grumpy??
(Disclaimer here: there are some thematic spoilers in this next section, but I promise you it is only to give you a deeper artistic understanding of the film and also my personal anxieties. Also it’s just “La La Land,” you’ll survive. Also I’m sorry.)
Here’s what I didn’t like about this movie. It’s not really doing anything new. At best, it’s a subpar movie musical. Emma Stone’s singing offended me on a personal level. I found the songs and dances underwhelming. In fact, I actively dreaded those scenes, and come on, those are usually THE BEST SCENES. You don’t watch “West Side Story” for the scenes where they’re NOT singing and dancing. It’s another movie that forgets people of color exist in the world. And oh, just when Emma Stones’s at her lowest point, a deus ex machina SWEEPS IN and MAKES EVERYTHING FINE.
Emma Stone plays an actress. A struggling actress, who goes on endless bad auditions with rude casting directors, and is wondering if she really has it in her and is really good enough. Her lowest point, is when she self-produces a solo show and basically no one comes.
That part hit a little close to home for me.
A lot of times, the things we don’t like in stories are reflecting a part of ourselves that we aren’t necessarily cool with. I’ve never wanted to move to LA, but I’ve always wondered if maybe I should have by now.
Would a big time casting director happened to have been one of the seven people in the audience in my one-woman show, who would have happened to have tracked down my number to invite me to audition for a movie that happens to shoot in France that they were happening to make all around me? And that one job would have solved all of my problems and made me rich and happy for the rest of my life? WOULD THAT HAVE BEEN MY EXPERIENCE IN LA? But like, would it??
This movie does make some arguments for my personal road not taken, and gets at some interesting takes on the classic Hollywood love story ending. I found a lot of its portrayal of being an actress fairly true to my experience, and also I mean, I’ve dated my share of jazz musicians. I totally get it.
It’s just. This movie is SO white. Some of these other movies it’s up against are just so beautiful and innovative and just. well done movies. It’s win seems inevitable.
It’s like watching a race where there’s someone I want to win who doesn’t stand a chance, someone who should win who I’m actively excited for, and someone who will win, which just seems to set us all back to that old time, golden era of America.
Also, go see “20th Century Women.” It’s the writer/director who did “Beginners” and passes the Bechdel test immediately and is all about raising guys to be feminist. I think that movie will make the world a better place. Thank you.