I Love Jazz
by ETHAN PETERSON
La La Land
dir. Damien Chazelle
Did you have a deep curiosity in your heart as to what white people will be able to rely on emotionally for sustenance in this new and place? Mia (Emma Stone) is at a party and a guy shorter than her makes the mistake of talking to her about “world-building.” She is disgusted on three levels:
– he uses words she does not understand
– she looks down on his head
– he seems vaguely ethnic
Ryan Gosling is just slightly taller. He pretends to play the piano in La La Land, which I suppose is meant to make him likable. It does not – he is just as miserable a person as the type of woman he attracts. Then comes the dancing: La La Land opens with a musical number on a Los Angeles freeway, heading to Van Nuys, where people of all different races and colors dance around Mr. Gosling and Ms. Stone, as if to accentuate their whiteness as part of a tapestry.
This holds a dubious moral meaning. The last moment it was so key to be a white anglo saxon protestant was a century ago, when the influx of Italian and Irish immigration made it very important to distinguish one sect from another. A word kept reoccurring to me as I watched the dancing of La La Land, which is not only not terribly exciting at best but actively boring at worst: caste.
Welcome to this awful place of Los Angeles, where a woman who fucks Ryan Gosling and is not overly effective as a barista has the teremity to complain about her existence. Director Damien Chazelle sets a lot of the action on the Warner Brothers lot, which mostly closely resembles Heaven in The Good Place or alternately the most dull aspects of Epcot Center.
Stone spends a series of interludes in auditions for other, better movies. This is a cliche so old that it predates the concept of American cinema itself, and her overly broad performance of a performance is too showy to be either entertaining to humorous. She might as well be loudly shouting, “What an actress I am!” Stone’s Mia is intensely conceited, speaking at length of how she used to be a writer and everyone loved what she worked on. This is reminiscent of the early praise given Patty Hearst, and we all know how that went.
Actually, maybe we don’t. La La Land pretends that there is no history. Gosling takes Stone to an African-American club where he explains jazz to her. His story of it is completely erroneous, but who cares? Any other culture simply exists to be abrogated into this one, which will be somewhat improved for it. (Naturally, the authenticity and quality of the original will be destroyed completely.) Gosling’s dream is to hire a bunch of black musicians for his own club, but in the meantime he takes his new girlfriend to see Rebel Without a Cause, the only older movie he knows.
Eventually, as this film lingered on and on long past its welcome, I wished that I was seeing Rebel Without a Cause so that I could watch something with actual characters. Going back in time is a disturbing feeling. Nostalgia is fine when we decline to omit the more serious, disturbing elements of the past. Instead Gosling dances with an elderly African-American couple on the marina – he has no way of actually talking to anyone outside of his caste, so he is forced to communicate through the medium of dance.
Later Gosling joins John Legend’s band, but he is still completely unhappy. Is this really the appropriate moment to play pretend? It takes a good solid hour before anyone even touches Ryan Gosling, and he never shows his penis at all, suggesting that we may not be good enough to see him on display. La La Land is thus a highlight reel of what were are permitted to view of our betters, and what a sickening display it is.
Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.