How to Rewrite La La Land

So I know I’m way behind on the hype and hoopla that followed in the wake of La La Land (hell, the Oscars were months ago now). I don’t know if it was the everyone-is-talking-about-it-so-I’m-staying far-away mentality or just not having the time, but I only got around to seeing Damien Chazelle’s film this morning. I watched it mostly because I had woken up too early and had some time to kill and thought it was something I should get around to eventually. So I settled down with some coffee and turned it on, unsure whether the movie would do all the awards and buzz justice.

And I liked it.

For the most part, that is.

Oh, and now that the analysis is about to start: SPOILERS.

I think the story, the directing, and the acting were all great, and absolutely the soundtrack was phenomenal. The film managed to play with camera angles, leading to some spectacular shots. The dancing in the stars bit from the planetarium was great. The spinning viewpoint during A Lovely Night was wonderful. And the coup de grace was of course the epilogue scene, with all the magical effects and my absolute favorite moment of Mia and Sebastian watching themselves playing with their hypothetical child on an old timey movie screen. In terms of acting, I think Emma Stone deserved her Oscar, and don’t get me started on the male side where Casey Affleck won (though I personally would’ve gone with Viggo Mortensen for his knockout portrayal of Ben Cash in Captain Fantastic).

However, after having finally watched the movie, I’m quite happy it didn’t end up winning Best Picture, Warren Beatty be damned. Like I’ve already said, as to arrest all detestation from what seemed to be most of the Earth’s population, I enjoyed this movie. But I think there are some major changes that should have be made that would have given La La Land a surefire Oscar.

I’ll cut right to the chase: this movie should not have been a musical.

Yes, the soundtrack is fantastic, all plaudits to Justin Hurwitz. Yes, the idea of a 50’s-style musical with jazzy rhythms and peppy dance numbers taking place in modern America sounds charming. But not this movie. Not with these actors. And not, especially, with this story.

First of all, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are not singers. Plain and simple. Movie actors singing in musicals has been tried many times before and, more often than not (looking at you Russell Crowe), it has failed. Like I said before, on acting alone, I think the two leads both produced five star performances. But if you’re going to make a movie musical, you need strong singers. They don’t need the voices of the best that Broadway has to offer, but they need to hold their own, which Stone and Gosling can not. Gene Kelley is exhibit A when it comes to the kind of movie musical-er I’m talking about.

Secondly, and more importantly, the wonderful story that this film tells would work far better outside the package of a musical. There are a number of times in La La Land that would resonate much better if they were not interrupted by a sudden song. I’m going to focus on one in particular: Mia’s audition.

Here, what can be seen as maybe the climax of the movie along with the epilogue, Mia tells the story of her aunt living in Paris. She starts speaking the first line or two, but then falls into a wistful song dedicated to the fools who dream. While this may be Stone’s best moment with respect to singing, how much better would it have been if she delivered this as a straight monologue?

For one, we get a lot of Sebastian’s jazz throughout. But we get next to none of Mia’s acting. This would’ve been the moment. And Emma Stone has the chops to turn this into a truly special cinematic moment. She could transition from a nervous intro about her aunt into a real and deep meditation on what it means to be a fool who dreams. That would carry so much more weight than a song sung by an actor.

Of course, singing should remain, it’s important to the tone of the movie. But do it like Pitch Perfect or any number of movies that have singing only where it would actually happen in reality. Leave the special moments for the A-list actors to kick out of the park.

Now, imagine the epilogue scene exactly as it is, the only difference being the movie you’ve been watching for the better part of two hours was not a musical. You wouldn’t be expecting to be taken out of normalcy into a world of song and dance. And so, when the life that Mia and Sebastian might have lived was suddenly told to you in in the realm of snapping and stage sets, how could you not be moved?

La La Land was good. Undeniable. But it could have been so much better. Instead of a being a recreation of 50’s era movie musicals, it could have been an homage to them instead. It could have been a story told in a snappy tone with jazzy accents, while capturing the best skills of its lead actors. It’s a pity that I can’t go back in time to make these changes. With them, La La Land could’ve been one of my favorites.


We’re All Made of Fiction

We all love a good story. Be it film, TV, or literature, we as humans so often envelop ourselves into worlds populated by all sorts of characters doing all sorts of things. So often the stories that captivate us the most involve characters we can relate to, ones that represent some form of our own being. And while everyone is bound to like certain works of fiction and certain characters more than others, anyone can find themselves in any fictional character in one way or another.

The easiest way to represent this phenomenon is by looking at groups of characters that all hold something that we relate to. Look at the sitcom Friends. Sure, we may all think that we’re a Chandler, or Monica, or Joey, but there’s no way that anyone is solely comparable to just one of them. While someone may be childish and loving like Joey, they could also be very neat like Monica, and a free spirited eccentric like Phoebe. People are incredibly complex, and the combinations are infinite, barring any parallel universes that may or may not exist.

This idea is not at all limited to Friends, it can be found everywhere. You may have traits of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. You may look at yourself as predominately relatable to Ron Weasley, but also see much of yourself in Luna Lovegood. Of course this is only looking at one work at a time. Each movie you see or book you read, you can go through this process again and again, each time finding more representations of yourself. And then there are all the Buzzfeed quizzes that try to label you, based on a few simple questions, as a certain character, or even real-life person. You can take the same quiz again and again and get different answers, all the more showing how no one fits one mold.

Of course this doesn’t imply that real people are just an amalgam of countless fictional characters, but that these limited fictional characters (limited because how much can really be said about anyone in a two hour movie, or even a 400 page book) are boiled-down representations of actual individuals. The complexity of humans is immense, unfathomable at times. And while it can be comforting, enjoyable, and helpful to relate oneself to fictional characters, it will only ever be an approximation. The fact that no one can be perfectly represented by a character attests to how unique each and every person that lives and has lived on this planet really is.

Ghibli: Cartoons Realer Than Life

The age of cartoons, at least when it comes to movies, seems to be over. To be fair, it’s probably been over for a while, with CGI Pixar-esque films the only real non-live action movies being made. While some of these movies are fantastic (Up and Wall-e great examples), modern animated films are being made to looker realer and realer. The big advantage that animated films have over live action is the ability to do whatever the filmmakers want to do, be it magic, robots, or any sort of physics-defying premises. That’s all well and good, but they still seem so fake (as might not be unexpected). While these movies continue their march towards reality, Studio Ghibli’s vast portfolio has already been there for decades.

Even though most are doused with all sorts of magic and fantasy, all portrayed by 2-dimensional characters in 2-dimensional worlds, Ghibli films are realer than most live action movies out there. So much of modern movies are full of action, adventure, and never-ending suspense, and while Ghibli incorporates these themes from time to time, their best moments are when they slow down and look at the various caveats of life. Live action films can do this quite well at times, but the incredible consistency across the Ghibli canon in exploring these facets is remarkable, and is what makes them so special.

Ghibli’s usage of cartoons (of course called anime in Japan) is what allows its films, the wonderful storytelling abilities of Miyazaki et al aside, to investigate those themes so wonderfully. Each Ghibli film is a work of art in itself, with gorgeous drawings and animations creating an eye-catching spectacle. This artistic nature is what allows the films to explore reality so well, in that they provide a way to view life with the weight, separation, fantasy, and importance that we give it. Everyone views things differently, and our minds elaborate on what we experience, because we live in our mind, not outside it.

Ghibli’s ability to take one step out of reality is its greatest asset. The scenes in the heartbreaking Grave of the Fireflies would be too gut-wrenching to see in live action, yet that film explores the life in war-torn Japan expertly. Throughout films like My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Whisper of the Heart, the filmmakers paint a picture of the magical nature of everyday life, something that would seem mundane if a camera was simply pointed at some people. In Spirited Away, the indomitable bath house and the various spirits within are surely closer to representing the challenges a child faces growing up than simply portraying those ideas with images we see every day.  Princess Mononoke, a film set around battle between humans and gods, illustrates the very real environmental situation we find ourselves in better than most. The list can go on and on.

To anyone who hasn’t seen Ghibli movies, to anyone who is hesitant to see Ghibli movies, and to anyone who doesn’t think cartoons can make a great movie, highly highly highly encourage them to give Ghibli a try. Their ability to depict life’s great facets in mesmerizing fashion is unparalleled in film. Their wonderful themes and artwork are accented gloriously with beautiful scores by excellent composers like Joe Hisaishi, among others. Best of all, they paint life as we really see it: through our mind’s eye, enhanced by our thoughts and imagination.

Why YouTube is Better Than Netflix

In an era where the internet dominates life, video services like Netflix and YouTube have flourished. The age of television is waning, and the ability to binge-watch content is becoming the new norm. Now, it seems that it’s more common to have a Netflix account than to not. And while Netflix has existed since 1999, its online streaming is newer than YouTube. Yet people seem to spend a majority of their video-consuming time on Netflix. I was one of those people up until recently, until I really committed some time (circumstantially) to YouTube, and realized what it really has to offer.

What drew me to YouTube as a true fan with dedicated subscriptions (as opposed to just looking up random videos from time to time), was the quality “educational” videos, including Vsauce, CGPGrey, Brady Haran’s various channels, and Smarter Every Day, among others. As a massive user of Wikipedia, these channels provided me with essentially the same benefit as Wikipedia, that being cool and often random facts, while also being entertaining and innovative. My discovering of these channels led me to watch their entire backlogs, something which every YouTube fan should do. I continued on with the following of these channels for some time. Then I found the Vlogbrothers.

I’d known about the existence of John and Hank Green’s channel for a while, but never really watched it until I happened across a recurring series of “[insert large number] jokes in four minutes” videos by Hank. This drew me in and, after watching a number of their videos at random and becoming accustomed to their style and the various intricacies of Nerdfighteria, I decided to start from the beginning. That meant watching every of their videos in chronological order, starting with Brotherhood 2.0.

It was this experience (which, mind, is still ongoing, since they have something like 1,400 videos) that drew me to the conclusion made in the title, that YouTube is better than Netflix. What watching the Vlogbrothers, particularly Brotherhood 2.0, provided me was the joy of seeing an empire, one that I knew what it would become, be created right before my eyes. I’m someone who is fascinated by everyday life, and the small stories that are ingrained into it. The Vlogbrothers provided this in abundance, chronicling their various day-to-day activities, as well as their larger career and life arcs.

This is why YouTube is better than Netflix: it’s real. Sure, Netflix can provide nearly endless entertainment, and I do enjoy what it has to offer. But just by its very nature, it’s fake. Netflix is just actors reading from a script experiencing predetermined events. Even if it’s a show or movie about “real life” stuff, it still isn’t real life. Real life is unpredictable and ever changing, with countless little facets that make all the difference. YouTube allows you to explore these facets, whatever they may be, by connecting you to real people whose lives also reach to the same facets as yours. It allows you to watch real life stories unfold before your eyes, and often become a part of them as well. You learn new things all over, from the wonderful educational YouTubers to the daily vloggers and all those inbetween. Everyone has their own combination of random interests and identities, and YouTube’s mass of content ensures that you can find something you can relate to, and something you can enjoy.

It’s the only real reality TV.