Film Reviews: La La Land and Hidden Figures

A couple belated capsule film reviews, from the holiday week — La La Land and Hidden Figures.

I loved La La Land, for its charming cheerful songs, its tour of LA locations — especially Griffith Park, that freeway ramp along the I-110, and that hillside road overlooking the valley lined with valet parked cars, where the first dance between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone takes place — but especially for the alternate history time-loop that appears at a key point in the film. The theme of sacrificing for your dream is hardly unfamiliar, as is the self-reflective idea that maybe you just aren’t good enough to succeed (I think everyone feels that to some degree; it’s more about how long you keep trying), but that those ideas might undermine the film’s easy romance gives the film a slight edge.

We also saw that week Hidden Figures, the movie set in the early 1960s about several black women who played key roles in the early space program, working for NASA in an age when not only women, but certainly ‘colored’ people, were mostly unseen and disregarded by the white male wonks in central control. This is of the Hollywood genre that reflects on history through the filter of contemporary values, in such a blatant way that you can’t quite trust its retelling of history; and its three parallel narratives are obvious and too often played for laughs (as when Taraji P. Henson’s character has to repeatedly run to another building, 1/4 mile away, with the only available ‘colored’ restroom). At the same time, it’s great to see a film recalling our nation’s glory days, when we accomplished great things– launching men into space, later reaching the moon. (Despite my reservations — worth seeing.)

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