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THE CRITIC’S CORNER: La La Land (and why I love it)

‘The Critic’s Corner’ is a new feature on The Yorker where we will share some personal favourite’s from some of our Staff Writer’s as well as some other film related discussions.

Image Courtesy of The Atlantic

I owe a lot to my A Levels; I wouldn’t be here without them. Contrary to popular belief, I for one gained a lot from my Film Studies A Level—yes, it is a ‘proper’ subject. La La Land is one of the first films that I ever studied and in the three years since first encountering it I have loved and loathed it in equal measure. In the immortal words of Charli XCX, here’s how I’m feeling now.

For one: I am utterly enthralled by Emma Stone. Even the worst film warrants my attention if graced by her presence. I find it nigh on impossible to criticise anything that she does—is this a problem? I went through a similar phase with Joaquin Phoenix and came out largely unscathed; I was still able to recognise Joker for the hot-mess that it was. In my world, Phoenix and Stone are my film parents. I like to consider myself the offspring of Woody Allen’s Irrational Man (in which Stone and Phoenix play a pair of loved-up philosophers), but if I had to conceive of an alternative, I’d be hard pressed to find a better replacement for Joaquin than Ryan Gosling. Luckily for me, this ship has sailed three times prior. 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love marked the beginning of the tumultuous triptych that is Gosling and Stone’s on-screen love-affair; an affair that culminated in 2016 and continues ever onward in my dreams. Let’s talk about it. 

Few films make me even half as happy as La La Land. For better or worse, it is one of my personal favourites. I’ve always struggled to come to terms with this. I was initially indifferent when I first encountered it three years ago; I first watched it as part of a comparative study with Winter’s Bone for my A Level (the two were tenuously tethered together in a module on contemporary American cinema)—needless to say, opinions were mixed. My initial reaction was tantamount to an identity crisis; at this point in my adolescence, the thought of embracing such a conventionally ‘effeminate’ film made me somewhat uncomfortable. I now realise that this was a categorical mistake. I had yet to come to terms with the fact that I could embrace this facet of filmmaking without fear of judgement. In retrospect, I don’t know why it took me so long—hell, my film teacher’s favourite film was Bridget Jones’s Diary! I am eternally indebted to him for prompting this realisation, even if it did come too late for me to embrace the film during my studies. If I could turn back time, I would love La La Land as unabashedly as I now love The Favourite (one of three film posters that I actually own). Were it not for the former, I doubt if I would love the latter even half as much as I do currently. I owe a lot to La La Land, and I think it is about time that I gave it its due. 

I haven’t watched La La Land in a while now, and yet, despite its absence, it still feels like an old friend. Few films give me that feeling; my affection tends to wane as the years go by. Some other films that I have studied in the past come close (Vertigo comes to mind), but most tend to fall short of the mark. It feels as if I was born with some semblance of this film in my bones; encoded into my genome, as if it has always been a part of me. In a way, I guess it has.

I can deny it no longer! I adore La La Land. It is one of maybe three or four films that have made me cry, and the only one that has done so successfully on multiple occasions. From the heights of the film’s lucious opening on Interstate 105 to the depths of its sombre final note at Seb’s, La La Land succeeds as a musical on all fronts. Its soundscape is exuberant and eclectic; fortified with Vitamins C and D, it is perfectly prescribed for a case of millennial malaise. The vague verisimilitude of Chazelle’s palette feels almost uncanny; it is life, assuredly, but not quite as we know it. To coin a phrase from that aforementioned film teacher, perhaps its colour is indicative of what the French would call its ‘joie de vivre’. As our narrative progresses and we tumble ever further into the folie à deux of our pair of protagonists, however, it seems as if the colour begins to drain from La La Land. The bright primary hues of yesteryear give way to more nuanced tones. It’s as if we have simply been buying into the dream for too long. Perhaps we have. 

By Ben Jordan