Does La La Land fall victim to the Jerry Maguire Effect?

The writers behind How I Met Your Mother – while disastrous at series’ finales – were brilliant at tagging mundane incidents with impressively memorable catchphrases. Did you just annihilate someone’s argument with evidence of your own? Hit them with a “Lawyer-ed.” Unsure if you made an un-bro-like etiquette mistake? Check “The Bro Code.” They coined the “Freeway Theory”, the “Curse of the Blitz”, the “Nothing Good Happens After 2 A.M.” rule, and a lengthy list more of flashy slogans for our everyday run-ins.

Floating somewhere within the packed dialogue of season three, however, rose a less conspicuous term, one that did not quite catch the ear of many viewers but is particularly relevant in our movie-loving society. That is “The Jerry Maguire Effect”.

Each one of us has watched a film at the insistence of a friend who claims it is one of “the best ever made.” For weeks, we get hyped up on these flamboyant plot descriptions from those excited, wide-eyed movie-watchers as they relay again to us its greatness with budding-film-critic diction. So, we cave and buy the cinema ticket, only for us to leave our seats with an overall sense of “meh.”  For Marshal and Ted that movie was Jerry Maguire. For viewers in 2017, it is La La Land.

The movie-musical follows Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they navigate their relationship amongst the compromises and challenges that come about when trying to make it in Hollywood. Directed and written by Whiplash’s Damien Chazelle, the story takes the ruthless reality of inspiring artists, wipes the grit off, and portrays it with overwhelming optimism and grace.

There are strong ties to Old-Hollywood charm, entire dance numbers that give Singin’ in the Rain a run for its money. Had the late, great Debbie Reynolds been alive to see Mia and Sebastian’s love story firsthand, she would have undoubtedly been swept away in nostalgia for a Gene Kelly improv. It is almost impossible not to liken this modernized tale to the 1952 classic – I mean, did you see that tap number on Los Angeles hills? It is so Kelly-esque.

La La Land is elegantly choreographed, aesthetically impeccable, and wonderfully acted; it won in every category in which it was nominated at the Golden Globes and tied 1996’s Titanic with 14 Academy Award nominations. If the film is being smothered by so much acclaim, then why are some viewers leaving the cinema crying foul? Because does it live up to this larger than life, greatest-film-of-the-century hype? Some moviegoers are vehemently saying “No.”

For some, the simplicity of their romance is not endearing, but empty; the waltzing silhouettes in the stars are not magical, but saccharine; and the notion that Gosling, a white man, is the only musician that can save jazz, meanwhile a very capable John Legend is standing right there? Well, that is just laughable.

It is not even to say that these opposers despised the movie – some may have really enjoyed it! – but there is this mentality surrounding the picture that if you were not swept away by its message, you lack taste or misunderstood the point. A hostility has formed between the lovers, who will defend this movie to the grave, and those who are indifferent, who feel they need to defend both themselves and the other films nominated this year. With other Best Picture-contenders Moonlight, Lion, and Hidden Figures finally hitting theatres here in St Andrews, there are only more passionate opinions being thrown into the mix from viewers who claim these are better suited for the trophy.

It is remarkable how word-of-mouth can both propel a movie towards acclaim, but can also poke holes in the glow surrounding it. Is La La Land one of the best films ever made? Possibly. Will it clear your skin and cure your depression? No, it will not. So if you are a La La Land enthusiast, calm it down a bit. Let’s stifle all this hype before The Jerry Maguire Effect needs to be re-titled, or worse, before your conversations play out like this Saturday Night Live sketch: