When Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s “La La Land” won nearly universal praise from critics late last year as a delightful vestige of classic Hollywood musicals, you could practically feel the countdown start: When would the backlash begin?
It’s hard to pinpoint when the narrative changed from, “Oh, you must see ‘La La Land’ ” to “Well, ‘La La Land’ wasn’t that great.” But it seems that as more people see the movie — as it has expanded from five theaters on Dec. 9 to a high of 3,000 this weekend — public opinion has tilted toward the latter. Not that it really matters: The film, which won seven Golden Globes, landed 14 Oscar nominations on Tuesday, tying “Titanic” and “All About Eve” for the most nominations in history.
The mixed reaction to “La La Land” may have hit its peak last weekend, when “Saturday Night Live” aired a skit about a man (host Aziz Ansari) taken into police custody because he thought the movie was decent … but also boring. “ ‘La La Land’ is a perfect film!” roars one cop, played by Cecily Strong. “Ryan Gosling didn’t learn piano from scratch so some little prick could come and nitpick!”
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Similar to the show’s “Beygency” sketch, where a guy is hunted down because he thinks Beyonce is pretty good instead of extraordinary, the effusiveness over “La La Land” — and whether it’s deserved — is now a punchline. Here’s a guide to the backlash, including the major issues people have with the film.
1. The movie is a little dull.
“I just thought there were too many montages in the middle,” Ansari’s character says on “SNL,” also admitting that he fell asleep. Strong, as the cop, is not pleased. “That’s how you show the passage of time, you dumb mother——!” she yells.
He’s not totally wrong. The movie, which chronicles the love story of Sebastian (a jazz musician) and Mia (an aspiring actress), does slow down as the characters embark separately on their respective careers. As the New York Observer puts it, “The movie sags badly in the middle, like a worn-out mattress that needs new springs. Months of separation … has a wearing effect on the film’s trajectory while you patiently wait, hoping something will move the plot along.”
2. Gosling and Stone aren’t exceptional singers or dancers.
Sure, they’re both incredibly talented actors, but when it comes to the all-important singing and dancing, they’re nothing like the Hollywood stars of musicals to which “La La Land” is often compared. “Director Damien Chazelle cited ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ as inspiration for the 2016 darling,” Refinery29 wrote. “But Emma Stone is no Debbie Reynolds.”
Then, some critics say it doesn’t really matter: “Neither is a particularly gifted singer or dancer,” The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday wrote in her review. “But that hardly matters in a film that sweeps them up as if carried by a swirling force of nature: They have the unforced grace of natural performers, lending an offhand rakishness to every step they take.”
3. The jazz issue.
Gosling’s character, Sebastian, dreams of saving his beloved genre, which he feels is crumbling. Music writers have some serious issues with how jazz is presented in the film, from Vulture’s “ ‘La La Land’ is clueless about what is actually happening in jazz” to Slate’s “ ‘La La Land’ may be a great movie about dreams, but about jazz, it’s a muddle of cliches.”
4. The “white savior” aspect.
Sebastian has been criticized for his “whitesplaining” of jazz, a genre that started in the black community. “If you’re gonna make a film about an artist staying true to the roots of jazz against the odds and against modern reinventions of the genre (from white musicians like, say, Mayer Hawthorne), you’d think that artist would be black,” MTV News wrote.
The “SNL” skit also brings this up, and the cops respond by scoffing that John Legend (who plays Sebastian’s musician friend) and a couple on a bridge during that one scene are black, so case closed!
5. The movie’s own award season narrative.
Spin compares “La La Land” to Taylor Swift — it presents itself as an underdog, when really, it’s more powerful than almost anyone else. The “La La Land” narrative has revolved around the idea that no one wanted to make the movie because it was a musical and an unknown quantity, which is quite risky in Hollywood.
However, many pointed out that musicals are actually a popular concept lately, on both TV and film. “The way in which it’s woven its Oscar narrative at least gives us an opportunity to examine the privileges of promoting a movie like ‘La La Land,’ particularly feigning bumbling ingenuity in hopes of — whoops! — tripping adorably into Oscar glory,” Spin added.
6. Stone’s character.
The movie delves more deeply into Sebastian’s career aspirations and delivers a much more nuanced portrait of his journey, unlike Mia. The New Yorker said director Chazelle “turns Mia into an absolute cipher, giving her nothing whatsoever to talk about … Chazelle is interested in Mia not as a character or as a person but as an ornament, a symbol of a kind of dream and a kind of success, and he puts her into his film empty, leaving her to be filled solely by the personality and the talent of Stone herself.”
7. Gosling’s character.
Some find him and his jazz obsession insufferable; the Guardian deems Sebastian “every bad date you ever had,” adding he’s “a jazz snob, the kind whose response to a woman saying she ‘hates jazz’ is to tell her she’s wrong and take her to a jazz club on every date thereafter. He is also, as a sidenote, often an actual jerk.”
8. People loving the movie (or hating it) for the wrong reasons.
So, do people actually hate “La La Land,” or has it just committed the dreadful sin of becoming “too popular,” particularly in the wake of its Golden Globes sweep? “It’s less simple snobbery than the logic of the internet: Any film or book or album getting near-universal praise becomes a magnet for a fresh ‘take’ from online commentators or smart ‘rethinking’ by serious critics and scholars,” Salon theorized.
Or is the positive response a reflection of 2016, a year that felt like a fever dream, and people are frantically trying to escape reality? “The embrace of ‘La La Land’ by critics and award-giving bodies alike speaks more to a kind of desperation for a movie like ‘La La Land’ than ‘La La Land’s’ own efficacy,” Spin wrote, adding, “Viewed in less apocalyptic times, I suspect its escapist qualities would fade.”