Can escapist musical 'La La Land' win over weary Oscars voters?

The musical 'La La Land,' which is now in limited release, is currently seen as an Oscars frontrunner. Will voters be won over by the movie after a difficult 2016?

Dale Robinette/Lionsgate/AP
'La La Land' stars Ryan Gosling (l.) and Emma Stone (r.).

The movie “La La Land,” a new original musical that stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, is now in limited release. Will the film, with its throwback musical story that could offer an escape for viewers after a difficult year, succeed at the 2017 Oscars? 

“La” stars Ms. Stone as Mia, an aspiring actress who is working as a barista, and Mr. Gosling as Sebastian, a jazz pianist. The film is written and directed by Damien Chazelle of “Whiplash.” 

The movie has gotten very positive reviews so far, with Monitor film critic Peter Rainer calling the film a “deliriously fine movie musical.”

Many critics have written of the happiness with which the movie leaves viewers, and the intrinsically hopeful tone of a musical. “The entire film seems to have been conceived in a state of controlled bliss,” Mr. Rainer wrote.

And so after what was in many ways a divisive year, industry watchers are debating whether “La” will succeed at the Academy Awards. 

“The common wisdom [with ‘La La Land’] is that people may just need an escape: a Hollywood romance about the romance of Hollywood,” Michael Schulman of The New Yorker wrote. But the film transcends that genre, he says, giving Hollywood an opportunity “to recast itself not as a playground of élites but as a land of underdogs, where any dreamy-eyed kid can make it big. It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card from whatever alienation the movie industry may be feeling from ‘real America,’ to whom Hollywood must appeal as politicians do.” 

Mr. Schulman didn’t predict a win or loss for the film, however, writing, “Forgive me for not making predictions. Another lesson of the 2016 election: prognostication is a fool’s game.”

Meanwhile, David Sims of The Atlantic writes that “La” could succeed, but that the recent Oscars controversy might lead the Academy to go with another film.

“The throwback musical ‘La La Land’ would be a vote for escapism, though to that film’s credit, it is partly a fable about the dangers of nostalgia,” Mr. Sims wrote. An award for “Moonlight,” on the other hand – which tells the story of a young, gay African-American man – “would be a push for more searing relevance.”

But with increasing attention on the Academy's diversity, or lack thereof, “A slew of trophies for ‘La La Land’ might not really signal meaningful progress,” Sims wrote. “This year’s institutional changes might be enough to radically push the Oscar race away from the conventional choices; as it stands now, another year of escapism will be on deck come February.”

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