Being a huge fan of Damian Chazelle‘s La La Land, I was heartened last weekend by Tom Hanks‘ expressions of enthusiasm during the Telluride Film Festival. I also more or less agreed with his remark, uttered last Saturday during a Sully q & a session, that La La Land‘s commercial debut on 12.2 “is going to be a test of the broader national audience.” Hanks’ kicker was that “if the audience doesn’t go and embrace something as wonderful as this then we are all doomed.”
I was therefore irked when HE commenter Bobby Peru stated in an HE comment thread that La La Land will probably not be embraced by mainstreamers with any real enthusiasm. I have my own suspicions about what may happen when La La Land opens (all of them rooted in the plague-like manifestation of shallow ADD tastes and cultural degradation that we see everywhere), but I asked Peru to explain his thinking. If you weren’t reading last weekend, what he said is worth kicking around.
Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone in Damien Chazewllle’s La La Land.
“This isn’t my opinion as much as a series of what I believe to be sad facts,” Peru wrote. “However, first we need to agree on whether you are suggesting that (1) it will find an art-house audience (it will), or (2) it will find mainstream success (i.e., $$$) with Joe and Jane Popcorn, to use your lexicon.
“1. While a film version of Hamilton could change the rules, movie musicals just do not make bank today, particularly not ones that resolutely don’t cater to the whims of pop music (unless they are Fox TV revivals of Grease featuring Vanessa Hudgens and company). Even something as quality-driven as Love & Mercy is a marketing struggle, and that movie had a built-in audience. We’ll see if Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga can change that with A Star Is Born. The current crop of ticket buyers driving today’s hits have very specific musical tastes — see last week’s VMA awards if you’re unsure what I’m talking about. Hamilton would work. Something called La La Land? Hmmm.
“2. Neither Ryan Gosling nor Emma Stone is any kind of box office draw for the average moviegoer, and wherever either has had a hit film it hasn’t been because of either. They have actually had more busts. If you asked the average person (again, the question being whether the film is going to draw a sizable Saturday night crowd in Tallahassee) to name a film that either of them has been in, they’d be very hard pressed. So there’s that.
“3. The average flyover viewer doesn’t give two hoots about Los Angeles, let alone something that’s a ‘love letter’ to it. So the subject matter won’t exactly be a draw.
“4. The title La La Land is an issue, period. The average ticket buyer, particularly a young male, isn’t going to verbalize such a title let alone buy a ticket for one: ‘Hey, guys, there’s this new movie with Emma Stone. Called La La Land. Saturday night?’
“5. Movies about struggling artists typically do not reflect the struggle of the average person and somehow fail to connect with them. Birdman, for example, was reviled by many and misunderstood by even more, the vast majority scratching their heads about the apparent critical fuss and industry sentiment for its Hollywood-makes-good themes that put the film over the top.
“6. After writing a piece decrying the decline of Western Civilization about how Suicide Squad trumped A Bigger Splash to the tune of hundreds of millions, you are actually asking me to justify why I think a movie such as this is going to have a major uphill commercial climb? At the very least, La La Land will be a marketing challenge.
“None of this is my axe to grind. I’m sure it’s a terrific movie. But when was the last time you saw an audience embrace a terrific movie? The mainstream doesn’t like romances anymore, unfortunately. Name one hit romance in the last five years. Love stories are out of vogue. Today, a mainstream movie love story is Captain America and Iron Man fighting each other and earning each other’s bromantic props.”