Warning: contains mild spoilers
It has a string of glowing reviews, seven Golden Globe wins and stacks of Oscar speculation. La La Land is the all-singing, all-dancing delight of 2017's awards season.
It's inspired such a frenzy of adoration, in fact, that Saturday Night Live recently spoofed the ire sparked by those who didn't really enjoy it very much: Aziz Ansari is questioned by two increasingly abrasive detectives (Cecily Strong and Beck Bennett) for thinking it "kind of dragged in the middle" and falling asleep during the film.
While Ansari's character "thought it was good", there are plenty of people who downright hated La La Land.
Here are some of the reasons:
Richard Brody makes a number of well-argued complaints about La La Land in The New Yorker, but one of his best is the valid point that Seb's most tremulous number isn't actually jazz.
Which is beguiling for a jazz pianist who spends the film trying to achieve his dream of founding a jazz cafe full of jazz paraphernalia:
"When Seb nonetheless takes matters into his own hands, what he plays sounds nothing like free jazz-it's a maudlin little waltz that he then turns bombastic, much closer to Eddy Duchin or Liberace than to Cecil Taylor or, for that matter, Art Tatum, who'd have had no trouble making great jazz from Christmas carols."
Beyond that, Seb's obsession with a particular type of jazz, neo-bop, is problematic for many in the wider jazz community. As Seve Chambers explains for Vulture, jazz musicians, both contemporary and classic (such as Miles Davis) have long pushed to widen jazz's definition, something Seb resolutely doesn't do in an attempt to "save" the genre:
"It's just unfortunate that, as parts of the jazz world have finally ditched rigid definitions of what the genre should be, the conservative vision is now being pushed to global audiences again. If Sebastian, and perhaps Chazelle, really want to save jazz, the solution is to let people freely choose what they enjoy about the music."
Seb's positioning as a white man trying to rescue jazz has also been read as difficult by many people. Musician, songwriter and former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij pointed out as much on Twitter when discussing the relationship between Keith, played by John Legend, and Seb:
furthermore the people of color written into the script were not really important to the story, john legend gave a great performance but ...— Rostam Batmanglij (@matsoR) December 21, 2016
...his character was what? a sellout? who made uncool pop music?— Rostam Batmanglij (@matsoR) December 21, 2016
black people invented jazz but now we need a white man to come save/preserve it? sorry this narrative doesn't work for me in 2016— Rostam Batmanglij (@matsoR) December 21, 2016
Batmanglij's argument followed a piece from Ira Madison III for MTV which discussed the problems of Gosling's casting. In it, he wrote:
"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."
But Seb is capable of mansplaining jazz
Brody also points this out (how Seb takes Mia to listen to some jazz, only to talk over all the jazz), but Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman struck a chord with her reading of the Ryan Gosling's character:
"[He] is every bad date I have ever had. Gosling plays Sebastian, 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, one who thinks it is acceptable to barge aggressively into a woman because he feels unappreciated by Da Man, and then not apologise to her until months later, and only because she orders him to do so."
As Morgan Leigh Davies points out in the LA Review of Books, this isn't the first time director Damian Chazelle has created some on-screen musical mansplaining:
"He is particularly attached to scenes in which men teach women how to play musical instruments, explain music to them, or play music for them."
Anna Silman also recognised this trait of Chazelle's for New York Magazine:
"It seems that Chazelle, himself a former jazz drummer, wants us to love not just jazz, but also to love men who love talking about loving jazz."
The imperfect singing and dancing
Hollywood is full of multi-talented, under-employed actors who can sing and dance.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling may be Oscar-nominated heavyweights, but neither were expert in either arena before training for La La Land. In fact, their singing and dancing has been widely criticised - the fact that the film is considered a triumph regardless is only to its merit, argue the fans.
Back to Davies again:
"La La Land still feels like an amateur affair. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are charming presences, but they are not accomplished singers, and Stone can't dance."
It's worth noting, however, that this was intentional on the filmmakers' part. Mandy Moore, the film's choreographer, said of Gosling and Stone's Griffith Observatory dance:
"It's by no means perfect, but it was never supposed to be perfect. And I think it would have lost some of its charm and also its accessibility to those who watch it if it had been absolutely perfect - a military Rockettes version of that dance."
The fact that La La Land wasn't really anything like Los Angeles
Batmanglij was among those who suggested that Chazelle's LA failed to represent the full diversity of people who live in Los Angeles.
La La Land didn't have a single gay person in it #notmylosangeles— Rostam Batmanglij (@matsoR) December 21, 2016
But he wasn't alone. Alison Willmore explained in Buzzfeed that the nostalgia that fuels La La Land is one charged by privilege - specifically, the privilege of being white:
"Whiteness is part of the point of La La Land as well - it is, after all, a privilege of whiteness to see yourself so easily in the stars of the studio golden age, as Mia does, and to imagine yourself among them or as carrying on in their tradition. It's a privilege of whiteness to feel such an unabashed sense of ownership over a genre of music as fundamentally grounded in the black experience as jazz the way Sebastian does."
As Bim Adewunmi, also writing for Buzzfeed, summed it up:
"Director Damien Chazelle has created a world with frustrating whispers of blackness: a silent older black couple who turn up on the pier midway through one beautiful and melancholy number, for example, or a jazz band strumming away on stage while Gosling's character goes into a passionate spiel about the New Orleans origins of the genre. This is a slight movie, and its awards haul so far is disproportionate to its allure."
Mia's improbable career
Arguably, Seb's good fortune of being casually handed an invitation to join a band that came with a $1,000 weekly paycheque is clearly the stuff of fiction.
However, it was the transformation in Mia's career that really irritated some viewers. Mia (Stone) goes from working in a café to being cast in a Paris-based film that will be written for her thanks to a poorly attended one-woman show.
For contributors on Quora, who answered the question, "What are the most unrealistic parts of La La Land?" this was a step too far.
Bella Shaw wrote: "Real life doesn't work so easily", while AdityaMaheshwari also struggled to understand how Stone had landed what Davies called "a stupendously bland" husband:
"Just five years later she is a famous actress and also already married to another man, with whom she even has a daughter. This happened so quick and looked impractical."
In fact, all the Priuses.
La La Land taught me that in LA even a barista can afford a Prius and live in a fancy kostan.— Shandy from IT Dept. (@shandya) January 17, 2017
La La Land was the best Prius commercial I have ever seen.— Gregory Woodman (@GregoryWoodman) January 8, 2017
The first mistake La La Land made was having one of its main characters drive a Prius.— P A T T Y (@PATTAPATPAT) January 21, 2017
Can someone tell me why Mia from La La Land can live in a landed property in LA and drive a Toyota Prius while being unemployed pic.twitter.com/MdZOczquKq— Adrian Benedict I. (@adrianirvan) January 18, 2017
There are a lot of the economical hybrid cars in La La Land, so many, in fact, that Mia and Seb's first dance only happens because she can't find her Prius in a sea of Priuses.
But she's a poorly paid, struggling barrista-cum-actress. How does she afford a car like that?