La La Land seems to be on an unstoppable march to Oscar glory. The reviews have been (mostly) glowing and stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have proven to be a godsend to movie marketeers everywhere with their witty and engaging attitude in interviews. It’s therefore disappointing, yet depressingly predictable, that some journalists have taken fault with the film and run with it to create a false representation of one of its key facets.
Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a passionate man and jobbing pianist. In many ways he is an old-fashioned soul, one who harks back to a forgotten era of live music and smoke-filled jazz bars. He’s passionate about this, to the point of living in poverty and jeopardising his employment prospects by steadfastly sticking to his principles. His dream is to open his own club where he can live out his fantasy (some would rightly call it his delusion) and bring the music he holds sacred to the wider public.
If he is guilty of anything then, it is arrogance in believing he is right on this issue – despite clear evidence that he is mistaken in thinking there is an audience for the clubs he dreams of – and of being overzealous in expressing his love of jazz. It’s a quality that anyone passionate about anything can relate to. Give me a soapbox and thirty minutes of your time and I will wax lyrical about Die Hard and explain point-by-point how it is the greatest film ever made. I believe it that much.
It’s a quality (the impassioned opinions that sometimes overtake us in general conversation) that I vividly recognise in Sebastian, and of course there is no end to the similarities between Ryan Gosling and me in real life either…
For the record, I don’t think La La Land is a perfect film. It has its faults. The script relies on over-the-top cutaways at the most inopportune of moments and the ‘what if’ finale undermines a lot of the drama that precedes it.
It’s a pity then, that some reviewers have mistaken this passion for misogyny and lazily labelled it as ‘mansplaining’, an incendiary term certain to grab ones attention even if it is wholly inaccurate in relation to this film.
The case for the prosecution relies on conversations Sebastian has with Mia (Emma Stone), where he is at pains to explain just how much jazz means to him. He goes into great detail about the legends of the past, rolls his eyes at some of her ignorance and tries his best to convince her to explore music the way he thinks it ought to be done.
Now that is pretty damning evidence when taken out of context.
The bigger picture, however, is that we aren’t meant to side with Seb’s snobbish attitude, in fact we are all on Mia’s side. We can see that he is ruining the moment and potentially, the blossoming romance between the pair.
He’s also doing the classic thing everyone does at the start of a relationship – trying too hard to prove himself. Haven’t we all droned on a bit too long on a first date about how great our favourite album is, or promised to take someone to our favourite restaurant because ‘you just have to try their dessert, it’s the best thing you will ever taste’?
Director Chazelle is actually holding a mirror up to how we might interact with our partners on our first few dates, and sometimes it makes for uncomfortable viewing. We might show off and potentially embarrass ourselves, but it’s a ludicrous leap in logic to say we turn into anything more than overexcited fools.
In the case of Sebastian, it’s an accusation that is easily dismissed as well. He repeatedly gets himself into trouble for being too eager to get his point across and it’s usually to other men. He is sacked from a job as a club pianist because he refuses to play Christmas standards opting instead to freestyle his brand of music, and he has a ‘difficult’ relationship with an old friend (played by John Legend), who even lambasts him for his old-fashioned views.
Sebastian is guilty of trying to force his opinions on everyone, not just Mia. You can call him snobbish, arrogant, stubborn and a terrible conversationalist if you want – but a misogynist he most certainly is not.
If he is guilty of anything then it’s ‘jazzplaining’, but I don’t think that’s going to catch on somehow.
Make up your own mind and check out La La Land in cinemas now.