‘La La Land’ — A Throwback with Heart

Hollywood tries to return to innocence, no matter the critics

Is the new film “La La Land” a sign of Hollywood looking to return to its days of innocence? It certainly looks the part.

Loaded with song and dance numbers and monologues about dreaming big — and using the big studios of days gone by as a backdrop — “La La Land” pairs today’s equivalent (sort of) of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. (Think about it: They really do fit the bill and have already worked together, much as Rogers and Astaire did.)

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Back in 1974, after Vietnam and two months before President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace, the MGM musical compilation tribute “That’s Entertainment!” found a large audience, its poster declaring: “Boy. Do we need it now.”

There are certainly similarities between the two films, even if “La La” seeks to be both musical and drama simultaneously, with Gosling and Stone both clearly shoo-ins for Oscar nods.

So the question remains: Is “La La Land” another “Do we need this now?”

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Fact is, yes, and we kinda do. Post-election America remains divided, and nothing unifies more people than a good old-fashioned musical, where the guy gets the girl — and his dream comes true to boot.

In the film our two protagonists are Mia, who isn’t quite an actor, and Seb, a jazz musician — or an aspiring one, anyway.

Following the story of two aspiring creatives in LA, failing in various ways but doing so together, Sebastian and Mia embark on a tumultuous relationship, managing their — at times conflicting — ambitions, and occasionally bursting into song. The scenes are in technicolor, the music spans genres, and the dance numbers are spectacular.

Days of yore stuff. Vintage Hollywood.

“It focuses on jazz while seemingly pushing the black Americans who pioneered the genre into the background,” said a review in Wired.

Of course, even “vintage Hollywood” is ripe for attack these days. Some critics have lamented what they consider its “racial politics.” Yep.

According to Wired: “It focuses on jazz while seemingly pushing the black Americans who pioneered the genre into the background. We constantly hear Gosling, the ‘white man savior’ explaining how he will save jazz, while behind him black men play the music they created. It’s patronizing and at times racist — numerous scenes show Gosling playing jazz piano as the only focal point of the camera, or Stone dancing to jazz, both outlined by people of color, footnotes in a representation of their culture.”

Because Seb couldn’t possibly be loosely based on Jimmy Dorsey, could he? Or Tommy?

Or Paul Whiteman, Bix Beiderbecke, or Joe Venuti — white men all?

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Despite the political posturing of some critics, most are overjoyed that Hollywood signed off on something with such a throwback quality, even while the studio probably only did after Gosling and Stone were in place. Still, that would have been long before Donald Trump won the election — probably even long before he threw his hat in the ring.

Which means this “return to days of old” has been something Hollywood has been toying with for years now. Since, say, Obama’s reelection.

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