Were you rushing or were you dragging?
February 15, 2017 6:02 PM   Subscribe


 
Yes, thank you
posted by pt68 at 6:14 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


SNL skit from the article.
posted by Artw at 6:14 PM on February 15


new ways to present old tropes are tiresome especially in entertainment
posted by reedcourtneyj at 6:19 PM on February 15


Were you rushing or were you dragging?

That damn movie is now the slappa-da-bass of jazz music. It's actually a sports movie, set in a music school.
posted by thelonius at 6:20 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


is the guy who made La La land the enemy now? There were only two characters in that movie, everyone else was there just to prove the movie was set on earth not the moon. Sometimes I feel like the problems we are facing in real life are so damn huge that we just decide to fight a fight we can win just to feel better. C'mon Kareem save that energy for the big fight, we need you.
posted by any major dude at 6:28 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the racial politics of that movie were weird. I'm not sure that I buy his second point as much: there's nothing wrong with ambition, and I'm not even sure I think there's anything wrong with putting ambition ahead of a relationship. I did think that it was pretty dumb that it never occurred to Sebastian or Mia that maybe he should go with her to Paris, because he might be able to find interesting opportunities for himself there.

Mostly, I just thought Sebastian was an asshole, and Chazelle maybe didn't realize he was an asshole, because Chazelle is probably an asshole in exactly the same way.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:32 PM on February 15 [16 favorites]


But I'm also disturbed to see the one major black character, Keith (John Legend), portrayed as the musical sellout who, as Sebastian sees it, has corrupted jazz into a diluted pop pablum.

This is possible, so justified as a plot point in a movie. That's really the end of the argument right there.
posted by davebush at 6:32 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has had one of the greatest second acts in American popular culture, and one that I never suspected until he started doing it.
posted by layceepee at 6:32 PM on February 15 [48 favorites]


Having faced the dillemma of career-in-performance-vs-love myself, I'm of the mind that it takes a rare and unique set of circumstances to maks that work, along with a giant dose of maturity and compassion.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:34 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


That damn movie is now the slappa-da-bass of jazz music

I'm honestly not sure what this is supposed to mean.
posted by Sokka shot first at 6:43 PM on February 15 [9 favorites]


how the hell is Keith seen as a sellout? He was about moving the form forward and Sebastian was about keeping the past alive. Weren't they both standing on their own principled ground? Aren't both needed? If anything Sebastian was the sellout to his principles, not Keith.
posted by any major dude at 6:47 PM on February 15 [15 favorites]


I'm honestly not sure what this is supposed to mean.

You're lucky.
posted by thelonius at 6:52 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


is the guy who made La La land the enemy now? There were only two characters in that movie...

He addresses this in the article:
As someone who finds La La Land bold, daring and deserving of all its critical and financial success, I can also admit that there are a few elements that warrant closer examination, particularly regarding its portrayal of jazz, romance and people of color. In fact, the better a work of art is, the more we must dissect it, because now we're not just measuring Rotten Tomatoes popularity or boffo box office, we're assessing its proper place in our cultural canon.
This is cultural criticism, not a decree from the Committee of Public Safety. No one will be brought in front of a Revolutionary Tribunal. Let's not let politics prevent us from furthering our understanding of the world as it is.

In the end, that might be what saves us.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 7:01 PM on February 15 [60 favorites]


No, I mean, I know the scene from I Love You Man or whatever, but I don't see what it has to do with Whiplash.
posted by Sokka shot first at 7:01 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


I really can't tell if Keith's music is supposed to be some Blueshammer style abomination. I mean, it's not my thing but it's not really bad as such? And if it's being coded as the inherent awfulness of encroaching pop culture then that's a bit wank?

Also I really liked Whiplash in all it's sports movieness, even if the music could be abstracted out to make it a Black Swan or something. Whereas the jazz in LaLaLand feels like a bit of a pretentious class marker.
posted by Artw at 7:02 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


> The ditzy blonde, the Muslim terrorist, the gay predator are all familiar stereotypes from years of TV and movies

The Predator was gay?
posted by Phssthpok at 7:03 PM on February 15 [37 favorites]


(Mostly I think LaLaLand was just sort of okay if a bit up itself and so was a bit bemused by the adulation it got for a while. Also if it steals a best song Oscar from Miana fuck it forever)
posted by Artw at 7:04 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


People now think it's awesome to yell "not my tempo!" at drummers. In the same way that bass players are now harassed by drunks quoting that scene which I will not name again. Perhaps my analogy was a bit of a stretch.

Whiplash was about the conflict between the insane abusive teacher and his victim, I suppose, and it's really only incidental that it was set in a music school.
posted by thelonius at 7:06 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


"Slappa da bass" is the sound of Rudd and Seagal taking a dump on my childhood.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:26 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Also Miles Teller must forevermore be referred to as "Whiplash" when he appears on screen, per his character name in that film.
posted by Artw at 7:32 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


That's actually a common misconception. In fact the teacher's name was Whiplash and the kid was Whiplash's Monster.
posted by No-sword at 7:35 PM on February 15 [91 favorites]


Maybe it was just that I watched Whiplash and La La Land pretty much back to back, but I think that the same problems that Brody identified in Whiplash apply to both films.

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/whiplash-getting-jazz-right-movies

Both of them have this romantic conception of art that just doesn't really hold up that demands crazy personal sacrifice and repetitive practice and exercises. That account works if you're doing supertraditional jazz but really breaks down for like, most of modernist art.
posted by taromsn at 8:11 PM on February 15


This is possible, so justified as a plot point in a movie. That's really the end of the argument right there.

Sorry, not going to let this slide. It's not the end of the argument at all.

It simply doesn't fucking matter what is or isn't "possible". Films, especially popular period pieces, shape how we as a society view history. So this becomes a question of how the film portrays its characters and, more importantly, the real history of the cultural appropriation of jazz music.

Abdul-Jabar is saying that the casting of the characters here creates -- intentionally or not -- an implication that jazz needed to be saved from the black people who invented it. Which is bullshit. It's ahistorical and offensive, and he's absolutely, 100% correct to call that out. Just as it's absolutely, 100% correct to call it out when any other movie has only one black character that ends up being the villain of the piece.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:20 PM on February 15 [70 favorites]


This is essay is a really great example of how to appreciate a piece of art while also examining its problematic aspects.
posted by lunasol at 9:04 PM on February 15 [13 favorites]


Well I for one rolled my eyes as the white guy battles to save the "true spirit of jazz," from the black dude who is selling out. Yeah whatever... It was annoying, and dragged me out of my enjoyment of the film. Points taken off, definitely.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:56 PM on February 15 [6 favorites]


When I think of jazz sellouts, I think of Dave Koz, Kenny G, Bing Crosby and Paul Whiteman.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 10:02 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


I mean, I guess it's probably more thank wanly jazzy dude is "selling himself out", but it's still wank.
posted by Artw at 10:47 PM on February 15


Good job, Kareem. Good writing.

I concur that Sebastian is kind of an asshole. The music is pretty and I usually love the Goz and Stone together, but in this case, dude is kind of an asshole and they were together what, six months at max? This does not an epic love story make.

I expected to love the movie, but it was...okay. Liked the music, liked Emma Stone, romance was not what I expected.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:51 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Their big emotional break up conversation over what is essentially a scheduling conflict did not sell me at all. It's like, adults should be able to work around this, you are children, you should not be together.
posted by Artw at 11:04 PM on February 15 [6 favorites]


Points taken off, definitely.

If we can only and finally retain all points, at last we will have true art.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:29 PM on February 15


The Predator was gay?

If you ever find yourself running around in the jungle looking for muscular men to wrestle you should at least wonder about your underlying motivation.
posted by biffa at 2:29 AM on February 16 [30 favorites]


I've made a concerted effort since the election to search out podcasts and cultural criticism from POC. In general, that sphere pretty much loathes this movie for precisely the reasons outlined by tobascodagma.

If anything, Abdul-Jabbar's critique of yet another entry in a seemingly endless stream of white savior stories is much more measured than it needs to be.

Also: what is it with Emma Stone and this stuff? Did she learn nothing from her experience with "Aloha?"
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:02 AM on February 16 [12 favorites]


She was also in The Help, which was a very... problematic movie wrt race.
posted by KGMoney at 3:50 AM on February 16 [7 favorites]


That account works if you're doing supertraditional jazz but really breaks down for like, most of modernist art.

One big thing about Whiplash that goes uncommented on in the film is that they're playing big band - the squarest of all jazz and something that's been kinda dead since the late 40's. There are repeated mentions of aspiring to the greatness of Charlie Parker, who played not big band but bebop (which he helped invent), which steered jazz back towards small groups, abstractness, and wild improvisation, where it has mostly stayed since then.

The teacher in the film idolises Parker, but what would this punctuality- and perfectionist-freak have thought if he worked with him, an unreliable junkie who sold his sax for drug money, and once had to be held up at the mic at a recording session after downing a quart bottle of whiskey?

Bebop was also in part a black response to swing music which by the 40's had a mostly white audience and whose biggest stars like Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller were also mostly white.
"The previous generation of Black jazz musicians played the popular music of the day. Despite the greater contributions of Black musicians to the idiom, that generation’s collaborations with whites were seldom on Black terms. Bebop staked out a different kind of intellectual and racial territory.

"High Bebop lived in the penthouses of intellectual and physical achievement while still keeping one foot in the ghetto. This tension is sublime, and it may be why Bird and Bud didn’t care if you understood their excellence or not. They provided the excellence; it was up to you to find your way. The integrity of High Bebop is unimpeachable.

- Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus
Deciding to be a great jazz musician in the 2010's and then playing by-the-numbers swing is like deciding you want to be a writer and trying to realise that goal by devoting your time to spelling bees.
posted by kersplunk at 3:58 AM on February 16 [18 favorites]


layceepee: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has had one of the greatest second acts in American popular culture, and one that I never suspected until he started doing it.

Not forgetting his brief stint as an airline pilot.
posted by dr_dank at 4:28 AM on February 16 [16 favorites]


Not forgetting his brief stint as an airline pilot.

I'm sorry you must have had him confused with someone else, Roger Murdoch was the co-pilot in that movie, not Kareem. By the way, do you like movies about gladiators?
posted by any major dude at 5:08 AM on February 16 [24 favorites]


Films, especially popular period pieces, shape how we as a society view history.

I, for one, can understand it's fiction.
posted by davebush at 5:28 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Do you want a cookie? We're talking about media criticism here, not whether there are little men dancing around behind the screen.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:32 AM on February 16 [24 favorites]


I cringed to read the piece given the headline as posted here, but that title is misleading because it's a very good even handed one that comes from a place of liking the film overall, so that's good. I just think he misses the mark a bit with his criticisms. That Sebastian is more of a prig about "proper jazz" than Keith is Seb's problem, not Keith's. Seb's insistence on a rigid definition of what counts as jazz and what doesn't is what's holding him back from other things in life. I firmly believe you're supposed to want to smack Seb a bit and say "kid, you've got talent, if you'd just loosen up a bit you could be great" - a message several other characters in the movie try to drive into him as well.

I never thought the film painted Keith's character as a sellout. Seb thought of him that way, but that's his flaw, just like the earlier scene where he talks too much and too enthusiastically about what he thinks jazz is. You are supposed to realize that Seb's a bit too intense - I think it was on an NPR Fresh Air interview with Chazelle where I heard him discuss that yeah, he feels he himself used to be a bit too rigid and insistent in his artistic ideas and he's using that to form the character of Sebastian.
posted by dnash at 5:34 AM on February 16 [14 favorites]


The Predator was gay?

If you ever find yourself running around in the jungle looking for muscular men to wrestle you should at least wonder about your underlying motivation.


Wearing a full body fishnet, no less.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:46 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


I agree La La Land is super white, and pretty overrated. It's spot-on to say it was a disappointment for the whiteness, and because it had some serious pacing and tone problems.

But I think people aren't giving it enough credit. Sebastian is absolutely supposed to be an asshole. Keith is not actually "the sell out." If he were, the film would have (a) made his music way less fun, and (b) made his speech about jazz much less convincing:

These guys were revolutionaries. How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re so entrenched in the past? … Jazz is about the future. ... You say you want to save jazz, but how are you going to save jazz is no one’s listening?

I'm all for cultural criticism. But one thing I dislike about deconstructions of complex works is that they assume contradictions and ambiguities are mistakes, and not written into the work on purpose.

It's not a "gotcha" to notice the ways in which the main characters are unlikable or flawed. Similarly, it's a mistake to assume that the film has one message about "career versus love", and that we're supposed to feel great about the characters' choices. It was a deliberate choice to depict Mia's actual Hollywood life as wealthy/successful but bland, with generic family members who don't even get named. It was a deliberate choice to dress this woman - who had previously appeared in every scene in vibrant and colorful dresses - in a boring, expensive-looking black sheath.

Let's give the filmmakers some credit.

I don't think we should confuse being disappointed about Mia and Seb's choices and values with the film itself being disappointing. As we can see in Kareem's criticism, these complexities make a work interesting to discuss. This and Whiplash are supposed to make you feel unsure about whether or not the main characters' sacrifices were worthwhile. Of course Whiplash is not about jazz drumming. Black Swan isn't about ballet, Citizen Kane isn't about journalism.
posted by Emily's Fist at 6:18 AM on February 16 [16 favorites]


I never thought the film painted Keith's character as a sellout. Seb thought of him that way, but that's his flaw, just like the earlier scene where he talks too much and too enthusiastically about what he thinks jazz is. You are supposed to realize that Seb's a bit too intense - I think it was on an NPR Fresh Air interview with Chazelle where I heard him discuss that yeah, he feels he himself used to be a bit too rigid and insistent in his artistic ideas and he's using that to form the character of Sebastian.
Ok, see, I think this is the problem. Our culture is largely run by white dudes, and a lot of those white dudes identify with Sebastian. They, too, were once overly-intense young men who missed out on things because of their single-minded intensity. They, too, experienced the struggle of having to learn to compromise their single-minded vision to maintain relationships. Dudes who identify with Sebastian call the shots in lots of ways: they greenlight movies, write film reviews, and vote in awards ceremonies. They saw this movie as a fun and profound take on a really significant life struggle.

The audience, however, is comprised of many people who don't identify with Sebastian. We identify with people who have known Sebastians and found them, to varying degrees, tedious or infuriating. Watching Sebastian does not make us think wistfully of our own internal struggles. It gives us flashbacks to bad dates, excruciating college seminars, cringe-inducing parties where some white guy spent 20 minutes explaining to the only black woman in the room why she wasn't quite getting the full implications of the radical potential of Beyoncé's music. Our struggle was to get the fuck away from that boring-ass dude before he mansplains or whitesplains or whatever-splains us literally to death through boredom.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:21 AM on February 16 [35 favorites]


C'mon Kareem save that energy for the big fight, we need you.

Calling out Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a bold move.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:10 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I never thought the film painted Keith's character as a sellout. Seb thought of him that way, but that's his flaw, just like the earlier scene where he talks too much and too enthusiastically about what he thinks jazz is. You are supposed to realize that Seb's a bit too intense - I think it was on an NPR Fresh Air interview with Chazelle where I heard him discuss that yeah, he feels he himself used to be a bit too rigid and insistent in his artistic ideas and he's using that to form the character of Sebastian.

This. This . This. A thousand times this! Sebastian is painted as pretentious, self-serious, and annoying. Mia is our every person. She can pop the balloon of Sebastian's bluster and still enjoy him, so we can too. Sebastian only became likable to me after "I Ran" scene.

The fact that Mia likes John Legend's band is supposed to give us the hint that the issue is with Seb, not Keith.

I agree La La Land is super white,

I don't see that at all, from the opening freeway number, to the party scenes, La La Land had the correct amount of diversity for a contemporary American city. ( There were more black people in the engagement party scene than in 7 seasons of Friends or the whole run of Girls. Even better, they made sure the diversity fit the scene. The freeway had every kind of person; the Hollywood parties were mostly white men and mixed-race models; the jazz club was middle-aged black people, boomer white people, and a few young white hipsters, etc. It all felt pretty well cast to me.
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 7:24 AM on February 16 [5 favorites]


Sebastian is absolutely supposed to be an asshole. Keith is not actually "the sell out." If he were, the film would have (a) made his music way less fun, and (b) made his speech about jazz much less convincing ...

But do you think the takeaway from the concert sequence was supposed to be that Keith was making great jazz that was pushing the art form forward, while Sebastian was just an old stick-in-the-mud who couldn't appreciate it? If so, I think Chazelle flubbed it. Keith comes off on screen as a MOR R&B act with some jazz inflections in the mix and a flashy backing band that's hitting its notes to pay the rent, not to advance an aesthetic. It absolutely undercuts his speech earlier in the thing, which is almost the only sensible thing anyone in the film has to say about jazz. I mean, as I recall, even Mia goes up to Seb afterward to be like, "You hate this, it's not what you want jazz to be, you shouldn't be doing it, you're selling out."

Of course in the final analysis Chazelle could really give a shit what Mia thinks about anything. She's the one that goes on to have the boring mainstream career, with her face plastered on billboards, and the film is so uninterested in any kind of artistic impulses she might have. (Note that we learn next to nothing about her one-woman show, despite it being the key turning point for her character's own development as an artist; the film can't be bothered to take her endeavors seriously.) And then the movie tries to give us The Sads over Seb's internal dramatization of the life they could have had together if the romance had worked out differently.

I dunno. Obviously Seb is meant to be an asshole, but to a certain degree La La Land seems to assume we're on #teamasshole by the final reel. There's this complicated bittersweet treatment of Seb's success at opening up a traditionalist jazz club that fulfills his Personal Aesthetic though he sacrificed his Great Love alongside only the most simplistic depiction of Mia's artistic life as a movie star — not to mention her status as wife and mother. This misstep is amplifed, for me, by the fact that Emma Stone carries the movie around on her shoulders; Gosling is good, but she's fantastic. I like the fact that she seems to be regarding Seb with pity more than longing in that final scene, but the romantic woulda-coulda-shoulda finale is clearly a story told from his perspective. The movie absolutely privileges the asshole's worldview, and I think that's why it annoyed me.

Aside from all this stuff, I actually think it's a pretty good film — definitely a step up from Whiplash, which started off strong and just became ridiculously contrived as it went along. But the sheer quantity of industry plaudits it's getting is a little embarrassing.
posted by Mothlight at 7:25 AM on February 16 [13 favorites]


Didn't want to watch this film at first because it had Emma Stone... whom I remembered from "Aloha" (in which she tried to pass as some form of Asian).

Then when I finally caved and watched La La Land, I saw Emma Stone adorning herself with PoC background furniture dancers (Someone In The Crowd) and the only noticeable black guy playing the role of someone who is ostensibly destroying/betraying the roots of jazz, while the white savior male protagonist is of course trying to save jazz!

Why can't Keith be white and Seb be black? Why do the PoC always have to be background furniture supporting "friends" whose names you don't even know or remember, dancing and singing around Emma Stone? And why does Emma Stone keep picking these horrible roles?

had more bones to pick with the film's racial representation/subtext; will write more later.
posted by aielen at 7:28 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


I mean, as I recall, even Mia goes up to Seb afterward to be like, "You hate this, it's not what you want jazz to be, you shouldn't be doing it, you're selling out."

I don't she was saying " You're selling out." She was saying "You're doing music you obviously hate, why?" She knows he wasn't playing with passion and the distance was putting strain on their relationship.

Of course in the final analysis Chazelle could really give a shit what Mia thinks about anything. She's the one that goes on to have the boring mainstream career, with her face plastered on billboards, and the film is so uninterested in any kind of artistic impulses she might have. (Note that we learn next to nothing about her one-woman show, despite it being the key turning point for her character's own development as an artist; the film can't be bothered to take her endeavors seriously.)

Nope, don't see this at all. I thought that Mia has the big career because she has a sense of proportion. Her audition was for a film they were building around the actress, that's a huge ( and very unrealistic) artistic opportunity, not a Michael bay film. Sebastian has his small success because he won't compromise.

And then the movie tries to give us The Sads over Seb's internal dramatization of the life they could have had together if the romance had worked out differently.

I disagree here too. The whole film has, up to that point was done in the style of a Jacques Demy heartbreak musical: realistic and sad. We step out of that for Seb's old Hollywood dream ballet because of how unrealistic it is. (The baby scenes are in faux-Super-8 for goodness sake.) Chazzelle is telling us that this Seb's dream. If he could have been his ideal self, he could have had this ideal life. But then we cut but to reality, where's he's a prickly perfectionist who knows he missed his chance.

Mia's sad, but not devastated, that's why she leaves so easily. At least that's my reading.
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 7:47 AM on February 16 [7 favorites]


Keith comes off on screen as a MOR R&B act with some jazz inflections in the mix and a flashy backing band that's hitting its notes to pay the rent, not to advance an aesthetic.
All the music felt torn in a lot of different directions. It needed to reference various screen musical traditions, and communicate moods to the audience, and make sense for the internal world of the musical, but managing all three at once seems to have been impossible.

What the band was playing here didn't agree with Legend's character's description. The big romantic theme wasn't the kind of thing a bebop snob would play either.

In that concert scene, are we supposed to believe that's literally the kind of music that the Messengers play or not? I'm pretty confused by that scene in general. Maybe artistic questions were all trumped by the need to show somebody having fun playing a Roli Seaboard--all the product placement was a little much.

I loved the movie personally, but I can understand why somebody wouldn't.
posted by floppyroofing at 8:20 AM on February 16


Of course in the final analysis Chazelle could really give a shit what Mia thinks about anything. She's the one that goes on to have the boring mainstream career, with her face plastered on billboards, and the film is so uninterested in any kind of artistic impulses she might have. (Note that we learn next to nothing about her one-woman show, despite it being the key turning point for her character's own development as an artist; the film can't be bothered to take her endeavors seriously.)

Nope, don't see this at all. I thought that Mia has the big career because she has a sense of proportion. Her audition was for a film they were building around the actress, that's a huge ( and very unrealistic) artistic opportunity, not a Michael bay film. Sebastian has his small success because he won't compromise.


I'm going to disagree with both of you a bit. I'd argue that Mia is angered by Seb's 'selling out' because by giving up on his dream of his traditional jazz club he is selling out on his passion and her identity is tied up with her passion. Her dream of becoming a big actress is essential to her personality, its what keeps her going to auditions when she's been treated like shit repeatedly and in their relationship their individual passions have reinforced each other. His movement away from his passion undermines the source of strength that both having passions has given to her.
posted by biffa at 8:28 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Ok, see, I think this is the problem. Our culture is largely run by white dudes, and a lot of those white dudes identify with Sebastian. They, too, were once overly-intense young men who missed out on things because of their single-minded intensity. They, too, experienced the struggle of having to learn to compromise their single-minded vision to maintain relationships. Dudes who identify with Sebastian call the shots in lots of ways: they greenlight movies, write film reviews, and vote in awards ceremonies. They saw this movie as a fun and profound take on a really significant life struggle.

Well put. Of all the problems in the world, the one that resonates most with Oscar voters is the tension between their singular artistic vision and everything else going on around them. War. Women. Etc. I really wish I could see another version of that, because they never, ever make that movie. Especially about some white dude.

I don't see that at all, from the opening freeway number, to the party scenes, La La Land had the correct amount of diversity for a contemporary American city.

Not too much, and always in the background or on the margins?

Why can't Keith be white and Seb be black? Why do the PoC always have to be background furniture supporting "friends" whose names you don't even know or remember, dancing and singing around Emma Stone? And why does Emma Stone keep picking these horrible roles?

Word. Contrast this movie with Hidden Figures (last I checked, the highest grossing of this year's best picture nominees), or anything in Lakeith Stanfield's body of work (Atlanta, Selma, Straight Outta Compton, Miles Ahead, etc.).

In fact, let's not stray too far from Miles Ahead. That's not some made-up difficult jazz musician with contrived, nonsensical, and invented problems - that's Miles Fucking Davis. It's hilarious and sad and typical that not only did that movie come out a year before La La Land, nobody saw it. Maybe next year's front runner for best picture can be the white version of Moonlight.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 9:00 AM on February 16 [10 favorites]


Well, there's the grim specter of Hacksaw Ridge lurking at the edges if you want to go really apocalyptic with your Oscar predictions.

I have to say, and admittedly this is at the disadvantage of not having seen Hell or High Water or Hidden Figures, it's a really muted bunch this year. Manchester By The Sea is basically a less likable Affleck having a protracted sulk, Moonlight is good but basically mumblecore, introspective sulking is very much in. LaLaLand is basically that but with musical numbers, and the tunes aren't even catchy.

It's hard not to imagine the Best Picture category looking over at the nonstop party happening over in Best Animated Feature category and feeling a little envious.
posted by Artw at 9:07 AM on February 16


Well, there's the grim specter of Hacksaw Ridge lurking at the edges if you want to go really apocalyptic with your Oscar predictions.

Ha Ha Ha this is a very good joke, you jokester!
(Oh god Mel Gibson really is going to win all the Oscars this year, isn't he??)
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:13 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


It's the new America! He has been redeemed!
posted by Artw at 9:15 AM on February 16


I am shocked that it took me to the bottom of this thread to start seeing reference to the fantasy sequence at the end of the film. For me that short retelling of the story was one of the most magical movie moments of the last few years. In it, the director shouts the moral of the story at us and it's exactly what Kareem's piece says it should have been: they both would have lived their happiest life if they had prioritized their relationship over their ambition. His criticism of the portrayal of love in the movie was the point of the movie and it said so in the dream. I wish I had a copy of the scene to go through everything they did different, I mostly remember Sebs choices so I guess he's the one who held them back.

What's interesting is that the most important change Seb made was when he brushed off John Legend. Didn't even hear his pitch. This was not a prioritization of love over ambition but a prioritization of principle over misguided love. He only took that job the first time because he thought he needed to to keep Mia, it clearly made him miserable and inserted distance into their life instead of money. (I agree with Kareem's take on John Legend, Seb had no fun playing with him because Seb loves old jazz not because he's a dick)

Maybe it's because I've been rewatching mad men lately but the question of can you have a career and love is a big and recurring one. In The dream one of them has a career and both of them have love. And her career is bigger because they both have love. In the real world they both followed their dream above all else and they are both sadder for it.
posted by macrael at 9:27 AM on February 16


I'm sorry you must have had him confused with someone else, Roger Murdoch was the co-pilot in that movie, not Kareem. By the way, do you like movies about gladiators?
posted by any major dude


No, but I love Predator
posted by the phlegmatic king at 9:29 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


People were a lot easier on white guys having dreads when Predator was made.
posted by Artw at 9:30 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Speaking of Kareem the writer, can anyone here weigh in on his Mycroft Holmes novel? I saw it in a second-hand bookshop recently and was tempted to pick it up.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:44 AM on February 16


Speaking of Kareem the writer, can anyone here weigh in on his Mycroft Holmes novel? I saw it in a second-hand bookshop recently and was tempted to pick it up.

There was a bit of a "this is meant to be a movie someday"-ness to it, but I enjoyed it a lot. Good addition to the Holmesian ecosystem.

posted by Celsius1414 at 10:40 AM on February 16


it's exactly what Kareem's piece says it should have been: they both would have lived their happiest life if they had prioritized their relationship over their ambition.

I didn't see the film as falling firmly on one side of the love/career question. I saw it as a bittersweet acknowledgment that you have to make choices in life, and that you will always "what if" about the alternative life and loves you didn't live. And that struggling sucks, but is also kind of romantic in retrospect.

Through the haze of nostalgia, Mia remembers their relationship as having been way better than it actually was. But in real life they were frequently assholes to each other, and fought a lot, even about things not related to their careers. What was good about their relationship was their shared passion and willingness to push one another to follow their dreams, but I didn't see them as having great chemistry outside that antagonism. I don't think it would have been a happy story if they'd given up their dreams to be together, even though achieving their dreams also didn't result in total happiness. Sometimes people come into your life and help you grow or change, but you're not destined to be together forever, and that's fine.

But do you think the takeaway from the concert sequence was supposed to be that Keith was making great jazz that was pushing the art form forward, while Sebastian was just an old stick-in-the-mud who couldn't appreciate it? If so, I think Chazelle flubbed it.

I think it falls somewhere in the middle. It's worthwhile both to innovate and write popular music, but also to keep the old ways alive. You should know which one you're good at, and not try to be something you aren't. Obviously Chezelle prefers more traditional jazz but I think he does a good job advocating for Keith's side, too, and showing that both things can be worthwhile. We want both the romantic moody jazz bars and the fun big band crowds.

from the opening freeway number, to the party scenes, La La Land had the correct amount of diversity for a contemporary American city. ( There were more black people in the engagement party scene than in 7 seasons of Friends or the whole run of Girls.

The Trump administration is diverse compared to Friends and Girls. The objection is that Chezelle has now made two movies that are centered on white men who are prodigies in an art form invented by black people. Hollywood's happy to cast people of color as "background extra #5" or "best friend to the main character" but we want to see more leading roles that aren't just Mr. and Mrs. White Bread and Butter. If we can't see that in a movie about jazz, where can we hope to see it?

I think he's a phenomenal director, but I hope it's a criticism that he hears.
posted by Emily's Fist at 10:49 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Mainly it seemed like an excuse to use the sets they showed us earlier, which I dig structurally but it doesn't really say anything.
posted by Artw at 10:59 AM on February 16


I think it falls somewhere in the middle. It's worthwhile both to innovate and write popular music, but also to keep the old ways alive. You should know which one you're good at, and not try to be something you aren't. Obviously Chezelle prefers more traditional jazz but I think he does a good job advocating for Keith's side, too, and showing that both things can be worthwhile. We want both the romantic moody jazz bars and the fun big band crowds.
I don't know. I don't think that innovative jazz is necessarily very crowd-pleasing, and I'm not at all sure I buy the conflation of innovating and being commercially successful.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:22 AM on February 16


Artw, you mean in the fantasy? The reason they were using the same sets was to show how if they'd made different choices in each of those scenes they could have ended up happy. Each scene had one action that was changed.

Emily's Fist, it's interesting to consider that they were misremembering but ultimately the things we see being different seem too big for that to account for it. Him not going on the road and her having a full house for her one woman show, for instance.

La La Land is a musical and is paying homage to the form. When we jumped forward to the end of the movie and see that our lovers are not together it was jarring but true. I remember feeling like there had been something missing in their relationship. They didn't treat each other the way we've been taught by the movies. Then, in the dream, we see how it could have been. The last two shots of Mia sitting in the Jazz club, one at the end of the fantasy and one at the resumption of the real are night and day. In one she's in love and in one she's alone. Sure, they smile at each other and go on with their lives, the loss of this was not a world ender for either of them, but the dream would have been more.


-- On review, there are only three scenes we see in the dream that are taken from earlier in the movie.
1. When they meet and he goes straight into kissing her
2. When they are having dinner and he says no to John Legend
3. When her one woman show has a full house
4. When she is offered the job in Paris and he's there in the waiting room

It seems to me that they are both imagining that if he'd never sold out and instead gone with her to Paris they could have had that happiness.
posted by macrael at 11:52 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


This was great.

I cried through 75% of La La Land, found it moving for reasons I can't even articulate to myself, but every takedown I've read has been 100% right and this one was the rightest yet (and the most sympathetic, as it wasn't articulated as a take-down at all). I knew Abdul-Jabbar was a smart, standup guy but I had no idea he was a cultural critic with such an insightful, intersectional analysis!

It's very interesting to compare La La Land to Chazelle's first movie, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, which features some anachronistic singing & dancing and a jazz musician. It's very ambiguous and narratively complex and also, features a black person as a full character and co-star rather than a plot point. I'm guessing Chezelle, who was a serious student of jazz drumming himself, has done some thinking about race but it's not clear to me what his conclusions are: Abdul-Jabbar certainly makes a good case that the message he's conveying in La La Land re: race and jazz is super problematic.

Thanks for sharing this.
posted by latkes at 8:30 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Reading more about Guy and Madeline, it seems that actually all 3 leads are people of color. The world of the film (Boston in the 00s), is also like a real urban environment: richly racially diverse.
posted by latkes at 8:48 AM on February 17


There's also this creepy but real thing of this older, married dude hitting on one of the young female leads that feels like a pretty thoughtfully presented story about gender relations. All in all, Guy and Madeline has a much more sophisticated world view than La La Land, which obv was trying to do other stuff - and in my view doing that other stuff very successfully - but with the accompanying problems of trying to pretend the real world doesn't exist and you can just make a movie about two white kids in love with no real world repercussions.
posted by latkes at 8:52 AM on February 17




Here’s the real reason no one went to see Mia’s show in La La Land

Ha! Great points. Actually that gets me to thinking - her attempt at a show is maybe her version of Seb's joining the band he doesn't really like? In the sense of an attempt to move forward towards a goal that's actually a step in the wrong direction. (This is a half-formed thought. I'm planning to see the movie again tomorrow so I may come back to this.)
posted by dnash at 5:55 PM on February 24


« Older “Pewdiepie will have to face some consequences of...   |   Look to the trees. Look to the rock. Look to the... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments