As luck, burlesque-gigging road trips and poetry would have it, as I sit preparing to spit some words about Damien Chazelle’s new movie musical La La Land, I’ve just ordered a painfully hip breakfast in a cafe in West L.A. So if you’ll permit me to drizzle some hot sauce onto my corned beef hash and sip on my coffee, I shall begin.
Admittedly, this movie came out a while ago. I actually saw it on New Year’s Day, but with awards season creeping on in and the fact that an Oscar for my beloved Lin-Manuel Miranda might be affected by the coming of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s musical-theater stylings, I figured this was a timely column after all.
First, I’d like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was beautifully shot and the story is simple, poignant and sad. As a performer, and especially one who is about to once again brave the cutthroat auditioning landscape, it felt very close to the truth. The kiss-ass, self-promoting, everyone-is-skinnier-than-you truth.
The first half hour of the film, with its traffic, failed auditions and networking parties, encapsulated the sun-drenched pain of Hollywood’s reality. My stomach twisted in recognition of the irresistible and unforgiving flame we’re all mindlessly drawn to, while shielding ourselves in a protective coat of haughty sarcasm that no one quite buys.
As a significant amount of time has passed since La La Land‘s release, there has been ample time for me to while away, reading other articles similar to this one, and I must admit that I don’t think the cries of “this film isn’t worth the plethora of Oscars the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are undoubtedly going to throw at it” are true. It is a testament to the narcissism of artists that the most lauded of art is about art itself, about its creation, and the toils and strife of its creators. The Academy is known for “patting itself on the back” as I read in a Huffington Post Australia article the other day, and whether this is or is not actually the best picture this year, I have no doubt that La La Land will ineptly tap dance off with the little gold statue for that exact achievement.
Don’t get me wrong, I did appreciate it, and even as a dancer and singer myself, I’ve felt more forgiving of the casting of non-dancers and singers in the lead roles than many of my friends. The movie is a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood musicals rather than a re-creation, so I appreciated the reality of laymen attempting to dance rather than the casting of someone as spectacularly talented as Debbie Reynolds (R.I.P.) or Fred Astaire. Yes, modern Broadway and West End stars deserve more of a chance on the big screen, but this was not that chance. That is not what La La Land, in my opinion, was trying to achieve.
With all of that said though, there are other movies this year far more deserving of recognition. My obsession, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is among such deserving recipients. In my last column I sang his praises and looked forward with gusto to his achieving PEGOT (those who have received the Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards) status, with “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana possibly winning an Oscar for best original song. Unfortunately for him (and the integrity of the Academy), after seeing La La Land, I just can’t see it happening anymore.
“City of Stars” is a beautiful song. I’ve had it stuck in my head for weeks and have learned to play it. But. BUT. It lacks the depth, complexity and power of “How Far I’ll Go.”
I honestly loved both La La Land and Moana and the music in both, but I can’t help but sit and grumble. I shouldn’t, because awards aren’t everything and we are spoiled with a rich tapestry of art, yet still I grumble. I guess there’s nothing to do now but wait, and put my Lin-Manuel PEGOT celebration party on hold.
See Charlie Starling in Absinthe, twice nightly in the Spiegeltent at Caesars Palace, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Wed-Sun. Visit AbsintheVegas.com for tickets. Follow her on Twitter: @charlistarling