Despite winning more Golden Globe awards than any other film last Sunday, I personally hated La La Land. I came to the theater hoping for magic, I expected the film to engage me in the same way old Hollywood musicals that La La Land is supposedly an ode to, did. But unlike those glorious landmarks of American cinema, the film’s approach to the musical genre feels mechanical; the show tunes and synchronized choreography are there but, barring Emma Stone’s transcendent performance, there’s no heart, or even a discerning mind.
Its title suggests that the film offers a fresh perspective on Los Angeles decadence, but its sole message, which is that fame corrupts and L.A. fame corrupts absolutely, is something we are all painfully aware of at this point and therefore do not need to be reminded of.
Musicals used to have a purpose in America, The Sound of Music came along when the country was still reeling from the aftermath of Nazism and Busby Berkeley’s otherworldly productions were an antidote to a people suffering through the Great Depression. But what is La La Land‘s purpose in the grand scheme of things? What is it trying to say?
It doesn’t seem to be saying much at all.
Though technically brilliant, La La Land is a pallid effort, a film that tries to be inspiring, fantastical and relevant but is ultimately none of those things.
Richard Brody of The New Yorker said, “There’s even more verve in the musical parodies of “Popstar” than in the strenuous emptiness, forced whimsy, and programmed emotion of “La La Land.”
I couldn’t agree more.
It’s safe to say that with the exception of Disney cartoons, Hollywood has lost the plot when it comes to musicals. But Bollywood hasn’t. India still reveres the musical format because its main film industry has always had its finger on the pulse of the nation. This is why at least eight of the top ten songs on India’s iTunes store always come from Bollywood films, not American pop stars who’ve dominated charts the world over and why the industry hasn’t allowed Hollywood to colonize Indian multiplexes.
“La La Land’s filmmakers shouldn’t have dug through dusty archives for inspiration and instead focused sternly at the present and future, something that Bollywood does so well. “
From the 1957 classic, Mother India, released at a time when India was still trying to gain footing after its independence, to this week’s big release, OK Jaanu, which addresses one of the country’s most recent social taboos – non-marital cohabitation – Bollywood makes it a point to appeal to the masses by tapping into the zeitgeist.
Naturally, the songs too change in accordance to the taste of the times. As opposed to La La Land‘s dated piano dirges, which have not been able to make an impact on the general public, Bollywood tunes are contemporary sounding, hook-laden pop spectacles that are ubiquitous in an everyday Indian’s life and by which I mean they’re played feverishly everywhere from family living rooms to graduation ceremonies to business functions.
Many of the old Hollywood musicals used to have that same clout and still do, “the hills are alive with the sound of music” and “singing in the rain, we’re singing in the rain” haven’t lost their luster but to suggest that La La Land heralds the return of that same brand of magic is a bold faced lie.
The film could have been able to however had its filmmakers not dug through dusty archives for inspiration and instead focused sternly at the present and future, something that Bollywood does so well.