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Why La La Land Is A Film That Hollywood Golden Age Actresses Would Be Proud Of

11/01/2017 12:52

In case you hadn't noticed, the film that will probably scoop up the most Oscars this year is in cinemas in the UK this week fresh from cleaning up a the Golden Globes earlier this week. La La Land has all the components of a sure-fire Academy Award magnet - all singing, all dancing ensembles, brash musical numbers from the get-go, show-stopping sets and at the heart of it all, a leading duo in the form of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, whose undeniable chemistry has seen them appear together in no less than four films together as an on-screen couple.

In an industry where the gender pay gap has been at the heart of discussions in the last few years, as voiced by Patricia Arquette and Scarlett Johansson and brought to attention when it was reported that Jennifer Lawrence was not paid the same as her male co-stars in 2013's American Hustle. In an industry that has historically been sexist to women and continues to be so, La La Land could have been a homage to everything that was unequal about 1940s Hollywood cinema - but refreshingly, it is not.

Back in the 1930s, the studios were run by men, and stars like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelley and Clark Gable were top of the bill, with often huge age differences between the older male star and a younger, emerging actress. The 1930s Hays Code was a set of rules that dictated how women were to be portrayed in film. They had to want to be married, or married already, scantily clad women on screen were banned and a wholesome, subservient image of women was manufactured. It was only later in musical cinema that Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965) and Liza Minelli in Cabaret (1972) emerged as notable exceptions - resulting in two of the most successful musical films of all time.

In 1952's Singin' in the Rain, an inward look at the Hollywood film industry, the character of Cathy played by the late Debbie Reynolds is the secret lip-syncing singer behind established silent film star Lina Lamont. Cathy is not in charge of the big reveal at the end of the film - instead it's left up to three men to pull the curtain on her, causing both women to flee, with Cathy running into the audience, and then being swept up into the arms of Gene Kelly - happy ever after, right?

So La La Land, set in present-day Hollywood following a jazz musician and an aspiring actress, also shows us the inside of the film industry and therefore draws obvious parallels with Singin' in the Rain and could have fallen into the age-old clichés of classic American cinema. With it's candied pastel colour palette, blockbuster trailer and promise of a big screen romance set amid dancing numbers harking back to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, who, like Gosling and Stone, were paired in multiple films together - it's certainly what I was expecting - and probably would have forgiven it for.

But instead, what director Damien Chazelle presents, (without giving too much away), is a thoroughly updated musical, with obvious references to the Hollywood Golden Age that, when sharply contrasted with the present day, just seem ludicrous and out of date. When Emma Stone's character of Mia goes for auditions alongside dozens of redheads all dressed in the same jacket, we're laughing but we realise the ridiculousness of her situation and the struggle she faces. When she goes to an audition and gets dismissed by the male director after about five seconds without him even looking up, women everywhere can identify with the feeling.

It's a sharp wake-up-call for Hollywood and Emma Stone couldn't be more of a modern-day heroine. She is the ultimate anti-Hollywood leading lady and a role model for a whole new generation of little girls who will inevitably watch La La Land and aspire to be like the intelligent non-stereotypically beautiful woman on screen, whose character chooses a career over a relationship and ends up with a bittersweet ending. By rewriting the Hollywood musical, Chazelle has given us an alternative ending - one that does justice to the female character, and feels a lot less like 'La La Land' and a lot more like real life. Not sewn into a leather catsuit. Not half-naked. Not airbrushed. It's a 2016 musical that 1950s leading ladies would be proud of.

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