In our last course, The History of the Hollywood Musical, I professed as to not have been a big fan of the latest Musical Oscar contender La La Land. I knew my opinion was contentious especially up against such overwhelming high regard for the film.
But the point of this post isn’t to explain my position on La La Land (although I will provide it for context) but the strange polarizing effect that hardens a mild dislike into something much stronger.
So let’s back up to my screening. La La Land had been on my radar for a long time having heard word of it playing at South by Southwest. By the time it rolled into my neck of the woods last January, I was really excited to see it. Right at the very start of the film after the classic Cinemascope logo, I felt put out. This didn’t look right. The faces in the overpass dance sequence we’re completely lost in shadow. The music had that squeaky clean sound: mixed so perfectly the sound loses all it’s character. (for example: breathy whisper vocals should not sound louder than big brass and rhythm hits – that sounds fake).
By the time the title card hit at the end of the number I felt I had just witnessed a low budget tacky postcard that the LA chic creative class send to their relatives in other states.
But so what? It’s just an opener… I let it go and started watching the story between Mia and Sebastian. My mind worked out the possibilities of the story as it unfolded. I recognized the art and craft of the direction. It almost drew attention to itself from Chazelle’s whiplash pans to the way he likes to photograph instruments.
I did have issues while watching with the character arcs. I found myself rooting for Sebastian to take the tour gig and make some money and a little disappointed at Mia for not seeing the long term benefits. I felt myself frustrated at Sebastian’s inability to make a phone call to tell Mia he couldn’t make it to her show. I thought a one woman show was a terrible idea and put off with the story element that some casting associate actually bothered to see it (and leave without introducing herself only to call for an audition much later). By the point of Mia’s big audition solo, I didn’t feel a thing for her character. The big epilogue was when I finally felt like the film was making good on the promise from the CinemaScope in the opening – a tad bit too late, beautiful, but kind of wrong…
So I left the theater in a mixed state. If I had to put it on a scale of ten I would have registered it as a 4/10. So on the negative side of mixed feelings. I began to investigate critical reviews. I read mostly gushing reviews but the few negative ones I found struck a chord with me – noticing things that I had felt while watching the film.
I took to Facebook and gave my quick review and immediately found myself arguing my position. And as I was making my points and building my argument, that initial 4/10 rating began to slide south. The more I attempted to articulate my misgivings, the more I found I disliked the film.
My opinion of the film was no longer affected by the film itself but by the social resistance I was facing. I was now an advocate against an overwhelming majority. Caught in such a position hyperbole is a easy weapon. Dislike turns to Detest and colors the discussion.
Now several months passed, I feel like I can more accurately assess my feelings of the film – and more accurately assess others reactions. When talking about movie reviews I always think back on the the criticism leveled at Roger Ebert for his star reviews – giving the same three stars to a serious and important drama as well as a frivolous fun popcorn flick. Ebert answered the criticism in that he reviewed the film for what it aimed to be and that the star rating should not be read into too deeply. Well he’s right – but I wonder if the whole film criticism world of stars, thumbs and scales really a lot less relevant than I had previously thought. I had seen and read lots of glowing reviews of La La Land by critics who admit early on that they did not like the musical genre. How is that opinion going to inform me as a person that loves the musical genre?
The fact is we all bring different emotional and psychological baggage in to a movie. What you see and what I see may be completely different and it can be affected a million different things before, during and after the movie.. And let’s dispel any notion of informed opinion being any better when it comes to enjoying a movie. Just because I have studied a subject does not mean my opinion is any better than yours – it may explain why I have my opinion and why I would persuade you think the way I do, but it does not mean my feelings are better felt than yours.
No one will have your identical life experiences. And no one really has any business telling you how to feel about a movie. Sure critics can tell you why they felt the way they do about a film – and that can shade your expectation at the movie theater – but ultimately you get to make up your own mind.
Maybe we can stop seeing disagreements about films as personal attacks but more of a conversation – an exploration into the differences of tastes, expectations and… ah who am I kidding???
P.S. I didn’t like Rogue One and thought Episode 7 was far better. I expect to be crucified by sundown.