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14. La La Land – This Just In (#23)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, This Just In is a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land.

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La La Land and Nostalgia’s End

One of the enduring criticisms of La La Land is the extent to which it indulges in nostalgia.

This is true of both the film and its characters. The opening scene proudly declares that the movie has been filmed in “Cinemascope”, with the landscape heavily saturated with bright colours that evoke classic Hollywood musicals even before a final showstopping number that evokes everything from An American in Paris to 7th Heaven. In this day and age, producing any big budget musical would feel like an act of nostalgia, but La La Land is a love letter to a genre that has fallen even further to the wayside than the western.

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Even the characters inhabiting the film’s world are defined by nostalgia. This is most obvious with Sebastian, a jazz nerd who desperately wants to construct a loving shrine to the artform as he loves it. “It’s dying,” he urges Mia. “It’s withering on the vine.” Sebastian laments the conversion of a cultural landmark into a “samba and tapas” restaurant. However, Mia is implied to be just as nostalgic. Her room is decorated with classic Hollywood memorabilia. When she finishes a rendition of her one-woman show, she asks Sebastian, “Is it too nostalgic?”

This sense of nostalgia has become an obvious line of attack against La La Land, particularly once it emerged as a Best Picture frontrunner. This is the way that things work; the same accusations were leveled at films like The Artist and Argo, to pick two recent examples. However, these criticisms miss one of the more compelling and nuanced aspects of La La Land‘s nostalgia. The film clearly pines for a lost past, wistfully remembering a world that no longer exists. However, it also accepts that loss. Unlike most exercises in nostalgia, La La Land understands that things can have value because they end.

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Note: This post contains spoilers for La La Land, including a discussion of the film’s ending. Go see it. Then come back.

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Non-Review Review: La La Land

La La Land is a beautiful piece of work, a film destined to leave the audience smiling and humming.

Damien Chazelle constructs an affectionate and old fashioned ode to Hollywood, to the magic of movies in particular and art in general. La La Land is a romance in just about every sense of the word, a tale of two young lovers chasing their dreams in the City of Angel with little more than the belief that they might one day find contentment and fulfilment. The result is a joyous celebration of film and music, a loving tribute to its emotive and transformative power that refuses to buckle beneath the demands of cynicism.

Song and dance about it.

Song and dance about it.

La La Land is endearing in its optimism, its embrace of musical fantasia and its belief in Los Angeles as a place where everyone can chase their dreams… and sometimes, if they’re lucky, those dreams might come true. It is an unapologetically romantic look at Tinseltown, one that could easily be dismissed as trite. Indeed, the most stinging criticism of the film is the most obvious; that La La Land is a movie that runs the risk of cruising to a Best Picture win by virtue of being a film by Hollywood about the romance of Hollywood. Argo and The Artist redux.

La La Land is very much aware of that criticism. And it does not care. “You say romantic like it’s a bad word,” complains soulful jazz pianist Sebastian at one point early at the film. It seems like the characters in La La Land refuse to live in a world smothered by cynicism and suffocated by self-awareness. Luckily enough, La La Land has little time for such vice and commits wholeheartedly to its dreamscape. If romance is a bad word, La La Land doesn’t even blush.

All that jazz...

All that jazz…

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