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I know men swoon at the idea of being Sebastian in La La Land, but can you please cut out the sobbing?

By Meadhbh McGrath

Well, it's official. La La Land has won the Baftas and the Golden Globes - now all that's left is the Oscars, where it's up for a record-equalling 14 awards.

It is indisputably the film sensation of the year. Critics love it. Audiences love it. Your dad loves it. It's been hailed as a "classic of the future" and earned five-star reviews across the globe.

With those endorsements ringing in my ears, I expected to leave the cinema breathless and bedazzled. But as the film wound down to its final moments, I wondered why I didn't feel like I was waltzing in the stars at the Griffith Observatory.

Zoning out during Emma Stone's deeply underwhelming "audition" song, I heard the distinct sound of muffled weeping and realised the teary audience members surrounding me were all men.

La La Land is a gorgeous film, with some delightful set-pieces, but for some reason it has struck a powerful chord with men - straight, white men in particular.

How has this pleasant, escapist musical captured these poor blokes' hearts so fully that they are declaring it the most extraordinary work of the last year, nay, the last decade?

Black critics have pointed out the irony in casting a white actor (Ryan Gosling) as the lone pianist who can "save" jazz (a distinctly black art-form) and then having him loudly mansplain freestyle jazz throughout one of the few actual jazz performances in the film.

In fact, once he learns that Mia (Stone) "hates jazz", he drags her to a jazz club on every date until he is satisfied he has changed her mind (sorry, "introduced her to the beauty of jazz").

Gosling, you see, plays jazz snob Sebastian, a character type that will be familiar to any woman who has gone out with a fervent "music lover" - or seen the episode of Sex and the City where Carrie falls for an unbearable musician in a porkpie hat who spends their dates lecturing her about, yes, "the beauty of jazz".

As Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman pointed out, watching La La Land can bring on a cringing memory rush for female audience members, resurrecting all those boyfriends who talked down to you about your taste in Beyonce/Keeping Up with the Kardashians/Starbucks lattes.

Maybe this is why La La Land appeals so much to men - they identify with Sebastian's "raw passion", his wounded masculinity, his fixation on his craft.

Strictly Come Dancing judge Len Goodman dicily praised Gosling as "not 'a pansy dancer'; he is still a guy with a strong character".

Ah, thank goodness, not one of those pansy dancers, he's a proper bloke. Men do love Gosling. Sure, he did that blubbery chick flick The Notebook, but he redeemed himself with Drive, single-handedly redefining cinematic cool the moment he donned that scorpion jacket.

You've probably heard men admitting they loved La La Land - eagerly prefaced by "I'm not into musicals, but ..." - but for all its seeming slightness and frivolity, director Damien Chazelle's vision for the film is aggressively male.

All the buzz around Stone's performance - she's tipped to take the Best Actress Oscar (if she does, Ruth Negga will have been robbed) - suggests this is "her" film, but it is really all about Sebastian.

Mia may be the actor, the one who supposedly adores cinema, but it is Sebastian who introduces her to Rebel Without a Cause for her research, who encourages her to quit her barista job, who drives all night long to force her to go to an audition.

Apart from a few auditions played for laughs, we don't see Mia acting, or get a clear picture of her work. We do, however, frequently listen to Sebastian play.

He doesn't even go to see her show. He's too busy tickling the ivories, dammit, and restoring jazz to its true glory.

So, La La Land left me feeling somewhat empty. It may sweep the boards at the Oscars (and if it does, it will be the fourth time in six years that Best Picture has gone to a film about Hollywood - the Academy loves rewarding movies about movies), but the message to me was that, in the world of the film, the artist's life is a male one and it is the male hero who gets to "save jazz".

It seems all the women get to do is sit back and watch.

Belfast Telegraph


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