“La La Land” delivers on promise of nostalgia

Courtesy of the Grizzly Staff

Here’s a student review of the award-winning musical and its place in film history

Erin McKinney


This awards season has churned out a large amount of beautifully designed films created to tell true stories and tall tales alike. This year’s theme seems to be nostalgia, with other nominees including “Hidden Figures,” about the genius mathematicians working to overcome both gravity and racism, “Fences,” a new interpretation of a classic stage production, and “Hacksaw Ridge,” a film portraying a conscientious objector to WWII.

In the midst of these we find “La La Land.” This film, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, provides viewers a familiar glimpse into a Hollywood gone by with a throwback to the classic American musical. The film has won high acclaim and multiple awards this season, sweeping all of the Golden Globe categories for which it was nominated, including best screenplay, best motion picture musical or comedy, best director, and best original score.

Director Damien Chazelle, known for his previous work on “Whiplash,” had long “[fought] to get this made, to get this in front of screens,” as he stated in his Golden Globe acceptance speech for best screenplay. Though I find it hard to believe it was difficult to sell a film about Hollywood to Hollywood itself, his speeches constantly refer back to the struggle to find a producer willing to “take the gamble” on this film.

Post-Golden Globe hype, I went into this film expecting a revolutionary take on the American musical, seeing things through the lens of a film course rather than an average viewer.

However, this is not a film designed to pioneer a new style. It makes no claims that it’s anything but a fun throwback to classic Hollywood. Taking that into consideration, “La La Land” delivers beautifully.

The heteronormative love story, though predictable, was beautifully told through the lighting and score as well as the performances of the actors. In fact, another one of the film’s eighty awards to date includes an honor from the Art Directors Guild for excellence in production design for a contemporary film.

Once I got over my cynical expectations of a cut to a joke about the massive musical numbers occurring seemingly at random, suspension of belief finally set in (as much as it can in a musical) and the story began to unfold.

“La La Land” manages to be self-aware without being self-conscious. This is perhaps most apparent in its self-referential humor when Emma Stone’s character, Mia, shares her work with Gosling’s character, asking, “Is it too nostalgic?” He replies, “That’s the point.”

Self-referential humor coupled with the set design, costumes, and choreography, serve as a reminder of Hollywood’s glory days and its role in the history of film. This film fits in perfectly with the current mood of nostalgia, following the surge in popularity of vinyl records and other tokens of the public past.

The film provides a light-hearted outlet for modern frustrations; it echoes the style of film produced in the golden age of American musicals while reminding audiences of something more. Sometimes a welcome distraction is found in a recreation of the past.

A comfortingly familiar narrative reminds us of what we love about going to the cinema: to settle in to a new story, to be transported to the fantastic world portrayed in films such as ”La La Land.”

Erin McKinney is a senior politics major and is minoring in media and communication studies. She is also a manager for Phonathon.