Will the curse of Oscar front-runnerhood undermine public enjoyment of La La Land?
It would be delightful to stumble unwittingly upon this old-fashioned movie musical about a romance between an unemployed actress (Emma Stone) and an underemployed jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) in contemporary Los Angeles. But in this century, Oscar voters have tended to fall loudly in love with one moderately budgeted quasi-experimental movie each year, which then raises expectations for it too high.
For example, a half decade ago the Academy decided weeks before The Artist was even released to reward that modest little silent film with the Best Picture statuette, thus pretty much ruining the black-and-white film for everybody else when it, inevitably, couldn’t live up to the hype. Similarly, the odd Birdman and the slightly cheesy Slumdog Millionaire would have been more fun to discover on your own than under the Academy’s august auspices. (Personally, I like it better when the Oscars reward an overdog movie such as The King’s Speech or The Departed.)
This year the favorite is La La Land.
The musical is more romantic than young director Damien Chazelle’s previous film, the hard-edged Whiplash, about the competitive relationship between a Juilliard-student jazz drummer and his demanding professor, played by J.K. Simmons.