Of course, the dazzling La La Land is a film that many of you have most likely already seen. Its array of beautiful colors and stellar acting by the spectacular Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, supplemented with a gorgeous soundtrack spawning a blend of classic jazz with contemporary notes make for an award-buzzing piece of art that has grossed over $232 million and won over the hearts of millions of people.
It’s important to note that La La Land has actually been in the works for nearly a decade now. Director Damien Chazelle’s strong affinity for musical films led him to write the screenplay for La La Land when he was a student at Harvard University in 2010. He wrote the script as his senior thesis and after graduating, moved to Los Angeles and continued writing and modifying the script. For years, no studio was willing to finance his film, claiming that it was not a “familiar” storyline and would not appeal to people. After Chizelle wrote the successful Whiplash in 2014, he finally attracted several studios and was able to start making the film, over five years after he wrote the script.
It’s interesting to note the resistance by studios to invest in this film, with the primary reason being that jazz musicals are too archaic for the youth – one theme explored in La La Land itself. The notion that past traditions do not appeal to modern generations is one that La La Land very much challenges: we haven’t seen a musical film in a long time, with the main assumption being that it’s just died out, but the very fact that it has been gone for so long is the catalyst for its popularity. La La Land draws from older films a nostalgic sense. It’s reminiscent of a different time that is real, making for a film that’s easy to lose ourselves in. The distinction, though, that sets La La Land apart from other films that adopt this same mechanism is while it incorporates older elements, it retains a modern feeling that keeps each scene fresh. The dance numbers aren’t flawlessly planned to perfection. Ryan and Emma’s voices are not Broadway-groomed and making our ears swoon. Their characters are flawed in numerous ways. They behave selfishly at times. This creates a much more real film, with the flaws and unpolished dance numbers creating a feeling of uniqueness.
Emma Stone plays Mia, a struggling actress working as a barista at a coffee shop in Los Angeles, serving lattes in between auditions. Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a jazz pianist making his living by playing cocktail party gigs with dreams of opening his own club. Two aspiring dreamers, full of passion yet so far have been unsuccessful. They meet. They’re attracted to each other’s ideal visions. They fall in love. It’s the ultimate love story. It’s the typical love story.
Yet, the movie defies the stereotypical clichés of a romantic plotline, and is in fact partly what constitutes its mass appeal. Their first interaction is Sebastian rudely pushing past Mia. When they seem to keep running into each other and Sebastian wonders if it means something, Mia states, “Probably not,” with them proceeding to sing about how they could never fall for each other. Their love story becomes more real, deeper, and more relatable to the audience.
The movie isn’t so much about their love story but more so about their artistic passion. Mia and Sebastian show how easy it is to get derailed from their dreams, and how sometimes it takes another person to push you back on the tracks to find it again. That’s what they do to each other. Mia has to remind Sebastian of his dream when he begins to play music he dislikes in a band, while Sebastian practically forces Mia to attend the audition. Ultimately, in their final scene together as a couple, Sebastian acknowledges that when Mia gets the audition, she will have to give it all she’s got. It’s his simple way of reflecting the harshness of reality: how pursuing your dreams requires sacrifice. Mia and Sebastian simply cannot be together for them to climb the ladders towards success. There have been dozens of films like this that try to capture the allure of Hollywood, yet cynically remark upon its cruel, harsh reality. However, Chazelle’s film is exceptional. He’s showing how getting plucked out of the crowd for a life-changing opportunity means that your life will chance and you will lose friends, loved ones, relationships, and other things that you hold dear. Yet he doesn’t try to criticize this. The film celebrates holding onto your convictions with rigidness, made clear in Mia’s audition song that pays homage to “the fools who dream, as foolish as they may seem.” This harsh reality is something we’ve all dealt with, which is what has caused so many to love La La Land because Chazelle doesn’t try to make us to feel bad about it. It’s simply the reality and we have to work with it.
The ending is jarring, seeing Mia with a husband and kid. Both have achieved their dreams, but the audience is met with shock and horror at the notion that Mia and Sebastian are not together. Ultimately, what sets the film even more apart is the beautiful epilogue that shows what life could have been like had Mia and Sebastian stayed together. I remember I found myself overcome with emotion, and quite frankly indignation. “Of course they could have stayed together! Mia should have filmed her movie and then come back and been with Sebastian. How could it not have worked out?” Yet the epilogue, I realize, is conveying something completely different. It’s not trying to show what could have happened. In fact, it’s not supposed to convey reality at all. There’s a reason the ending is so bright and colorful with uplifting, almost fantasy-like music. The ending is showing what would happen in an ideal world, a world in which everything works out perfectly: Mia and Sebastian attract everyone with their passions, land to success without an issue, have no fights, are able to live and work together in harmony.
The ending makes it clear: Although the couple spends most of the movie together, the movie never really belonged to their love story. La La Land is fashioned after Old Hollywood musicals, most of which pair guys and girls off in the perfect way. Often times in those movies, the couple doesn’t achieve their ambitions but what is important is that they are still together, making the audience happy. Yet La La Land underscores that the movie is not about Mia and Sebastian’s romance; rather, it’s about the shimmer of their dreams. The movie ending is in fact a happy one because they have accomplished their dreams. It’s fine that they don’t end up together, as made when they smile and nod at each other, having acknowledged each other’s success and happiness. The risky take of La La Land is that it asks its audience to understand that a happy ending doesn’t require its leads to still be in love. Sebastian and Mia live two parallel love stories: She has movies and he has jazz. They both end up with what they wanted in the end, ultimately with their own real loves. The movie lets the main characters essentially be selfish, but quietly. The movie tried to build up to this point, constantly hinting that they don’t belong together; they’re dazzling when they dance but not much else, often guilting each other into being more ambitious. The stunning epilogue in which Sebastian dreams his idealized life with Mia leaves his own life incomplete: he’s still without his jazz club, so the both of them could not have had it all together. It’s only in real life when Mia returns her taste in dark-haired, serious men (her husband looks awfully similar to the guy she was dating in the beginning - did anyone notice that?) that she can have everything she wants.
It’s questionable. Are they selfish? Should they have stayed together regardless of only achieving moderate success? Was their love really enough to overcome their own personal desires? The conclusion of La La Land seems sad, but it reflects people in real life and their real ambitions and dreams, and the compromises we have to make. Sebastian sums it up perfectly when describing jazz to Mia: “It’s conflict, and it’s compromise, and it’s very, very exciting.” That is essentially life, relationships, love - just about everything. The conclusion seems sad. But it’s real. And that’s what’s made this film so unique. It’s beautiful with a lovely soundtrack, great acting, and all the other traits of a fantastic film – but it’s ultimately its harrowing message of reality that people don’t like to hear that makes the film all the more rare and striking.
Written by Sarah Smati ('20)
For the nerdiest of us book lovers, having just books around isn't quite enough. Sometimes you need a little more to show your literary love. So, here are 10 fun and interesting things all book lovers need to bring their love for the literature to their homes in a meaningful way.
Suggestions by Ellie M.
James Turrell Skyspace: Vespertine Awakenings, as performed by Dušan Týnek Dance Theatre with composer Kurt Stallmann
Date: Saturday, February 25
Time: 6:00 PM
Location: Rice Moody Center for the Arts
Vespertine Awakenings has been choreographed specifically for the James Turrell Skyspace, and will be accompanied by original music featuring both live and recorded voices. The show will be performed at sunset. $20 for general admission, $10 for students. Get tickets at: https://buy.ticketstothecity.com/purchase.php?event_id=5142
TEDxRiceU: (Un)Common Knowledge
Date: Saturday, February 18
Time: 10:30 AM – 2 PM
Location: Duncan Hall
TEDxRiceU is hosting its 7th annual conference on uncommon, but intriguing topics. Alley Goodroad (who will be giving a talk titled “Revisiting Citizen Journalism & Agency”) and the Houston VIP National Poetry Slam Team are among the scheduled speakers. RSVP for free tickets at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/tedxriceu-uncommon-knowledge-tickets-31112637737.
Rice Art Gallery: Sol Lewitt’s “Glossy and Flat Black Squares (Wall Drawing #813)”
Date: Tuesday – Sunday
Time: 11 AM-5 PM on Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 AM-7 PM on Thursdays, 11:30 AM-5 PM on Sundays
Location: Rice Art Gallery
In 1997, Sol Lewitt, a minimalist who works with conceptual art, tailored this exhibition to Rice’s art gallery space. Now, Rice Gallery comes full circle by reinstalling “Glossy and Flat Black Squares” as its last exhibition. The installation, which opened on February 9th, will be available for viewing during normal gallery hours.
Rice Moody Center for the Arts: Grand Opening
Date: Friday, February 24 – Saturday, February 25
Time: 7:00-10:00 PM (grand opening celebration), 10:00 AM-5:00 PM (normal hours)
Location: Rice Moody Center for the Arts
The grand opening on February 24th will include exhibition viewing, live music by The Tontons, food trucks, and tours. This celebration is free and open to the public. The exhibition spaces will be open for the first full day of operations on February 25th.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH): Ron Mueck Exhibition
Date: Sunday, February 26 to Sunday, August 13
Time: Check https://www.mfah.org/visit/hours-and-admissions/ for museum hours
Location: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Known for his hyperrealist work, Ron Mueck once said in an interview, “I never made life-size figures because it never seemed to be interesting. We meet life-size people every day. [Altering the scale] makes you take notice in a way that you wouldn’t do with something that’s just number.” The exhibit will showcase thirteen of Mueck’s sculptures. Read more about this exhibition at https://www.mfah.org/exhibitions/ronmueck.
Written by Evelyn Syau ('20)
As an independent film and lit junkie, I will be the first to rattle on about the exciting crossovers between books and cinema. That said, some directors do a better job than others of capturing narratives and developing characters in the same complex way that literature does. Enter, Mike Mills. Seriously, this man’s ability to meld autobiography, history and fiction into a seamless work of art will make skeptics sing his praises (ask my uncle). I would marry him were he not already married to another one of my favorite writers, Miranda July (can I ask to be their step-child)?
I was first introduced to Mike Mills through his film Beginners (2011), which is on Netflix right now (go watch it). Beginners, a semi-autobiographical work, traces two stories: the story of a struggling artist falling in love, and the story of a relationship between a dying father and son after the father comes out as gay. Mills’ own father came out as gay late in his life, and Mills saw this film as a way to better understand his father and to come to terms with his parents’ decision to marry. Like all good Indie movies, Beginners searches for intimate moments that capture both the difficultly of love and the promise of starting anew at any age. Oh, and there’s a dog that talks.
When I heard that Mills’ new film, 20th Century Women (2016), was generating Oscar buzz, I was thrilled. Rarely do Indie movies make it into the mainstream Hollywood scene, but Mills deserves it. Like Beginners, 20th Century Women is also autobiographical, but this time he paints a portrait of his mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening), in a coming of age story set in 1979 in California. When Dorothea decides that young Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) needs the advice of young women to “help him become a man,” a funny, touching and occasionally gut-wrenching story ensures. The difficulty in knowing one’s parents, womanhood and feminism all feature alongside other fascinating characters played by Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig and Bill Crudup.
Now that Mike Mills has been catapulted onto the stage of mainstream Hollywood, I’m worried that his films will lose their credence and down-home charm. Part of what makes them so great is their loyalty to the small moments and interactions that make us who we are. They find the beauty and pain and never pretend to make ends need in the cloying way that these kind of slow movies sometimes do. In each of his works, one can see the touch of a artist trying to work through the material of his own life and, in doing so, discovering of stories that intimately connect us.
Written by Sophie N.
Here's a question that's worth considering, if you're ever wondering about the process of R2 or why it is our magazine picks what it does. It's a confusing process to someone not intimately involved in the publication, so let me give you a little insight on what R2's process looks like. Treat this as a little update as to where we are at this point in the semester.
Step 1: Submit - Submit - Submit! The Solicitations Phase
As R2 is a university publication, we operate on the schedule of an academic year; we spend the fall semester preparing for the spring publication and distributing the previous edition of R2. Starting at our Open Mic Night in October, we are open for submissions and accept until mid December. The most important part of this for staff members is the solicitation process: making posters, doing announcements, popping up around campus handing out copies of last year's magazine, and anything else we can think of. As a result, R2 usually has a hefty number of submissions from which we choose.
Step 2: The Big Read
The Big Read is an annual event held on the first Friday of the spring semester and lasting for a number of hours. It's the biggest event of a staff member's time in R2, completely exhausting, and also one of the most exciting days of the year. Over winter break, our section editors, managing editors, and editor-in-chief have gotten to work sorting through some submission, but what makes it to the Big Read are a huge collection of pieces. There, each staff member sits around reading and thinking about what sort of place the pieces they're reading could have in the magazine, doing this until every piece has been read three times. From this process, we get a general opinion - any piece that was somewhat enjoyed by the three readers makes it to section meetings.
Step 3: The Fight Begins
The next step is section meetings: meetings conducted by section editors with the people that read and select for that particular section. Each staff member signs up to read the possible pieces we may publish and leaves comments, and then those comments and any further opinions are discussed in section meetings. And section meetings can go from complete agreement to complete dissent, where a few members of the staff just fell completely in love with this one piece that the other members just aren't getting. The problem is just that every piece that makes it this far is incredibly, incredibly good. And there are a few things we're considering when compiling the magazine: what would make the section fit together as a whole, how much we would potential ask of the writer to adjust (we don't want heavy edits, obviously), and how much the piece stands out and calls to readers. Since the reading experience is so subjective, it can be super hard to come to a decision! But it's in these decisions that our magazine begins to come together and be formed into a real publication.
That's where we are now - making selections and forming a complete magazine. It's a long process to distill the many incredible pieces that were submitted, but we're working hard to produce a magazine that functions as a cohesive unit to showcase some amazing voices on-campus.
Prepare for a follow-up post to this one to show the rest of the publication process! And if you submitted something and don't see it in the end result - don't be discouraged! There are a plethora of incredible voices and pieces in our submission pile that made it a super-long way down the process. It's always possible that a piece we just couldn't fit in one year turns into the standout piece in the next. Producing R2 is a process that's identical to life - timing matters, and art is never standstill.
Written by Erika S.
One of the most in-demand books from the bookshelf in my third grade classroom was a “choose your own adventure” book. It was a tattered baby-blue paperback and we passed it around from kid to kid. You chose a character at the beginning and then followed them through a haunted house story of some sort. The exact twists and turns of the story were chosen by you. Depending on how you chose, you were led to one of several possible endings.
To be entirely honest, this is an authorial recommendation, and an obligation to yourself: One Must Read something by Haruki Murakami in their lifetime. His writing is the type that stays with you days afterward, reminding you of that one really vivid image or strange character or confusing plot point you think might just be allegorical. While I was in Germany this summer, I spent a non-negligible amount of time in English bookstores looking for cheap copies of Murakami. I finally picked up a copy of Kafka on the Shore for about 6 Euros. I could tell by the back cover and the weight of the book in my hand that this was something I wanted to get something out of - and I did. It took me the entirety of fall semester to get through this book, but I was rewarded for my time.
There are a few reasons why I want to push Murakami's books into your life. His work is decked out in both Western and Eastern philosophy, playing out in symbols and conceits that double as rich allusions and explanations of thought. There are so many thoughts from so many reference points that the result is immensely complex and beautiful: see a scene in Kafka on the Shore when a man dressed as Colonel Sanders brings a character to a traditional shrine, quotes some Hegel, and bamfs out. This sort of scene brings me to my second point: Murakami's work is magical realism, and everybody needs to experience some magical realism. Maybe it won’t be your thing; at first, the book wasn’t my thing, either. I wasn’t sure what I understood and what I didn’t, what I was supposed to be confused about and what the semester’s stress was keeping me from getting. About halfway through the book, though, I accepted the absurd happenings of the story; there are fluid and rigid rules to the universe that Murakami plays with, and it’s effective in creating a vivid world ripe with otherworldliness and distance. He manages to keep the reader in his characters heads, exploring the uneven world through their eyes. I really valued the way the story threads started out incredibly separated from one another and then blended together – even the blending is somewhat unexpected.
Long story short, there’s a reason that Murakami is widely regarded for being incredible. His work – even in the translation we English-speakers get – is captivatingly beautiful, sensual, and musical. It’s worth reading. Even if magical realism, converging pairs of strange characters, and layered allusions aren’t your thing, I still recommend stepping into the confused existences that Murakami manages to paint in Kafka on the Shore. Hopefully, you’ll be swept away into the world that isn’t so different from our own, but is just a version painted by brushstrokes of a vitally other existence.
Written by Erika S.
The perspective shared in this blog post is that of the author and not of R2 as an organization. This editorial is covering an event and its meaning and is not meant to further a political platform.
About nine months ago, I purchased what I thought was a rather ironic t-shirt from an online vendor. It was the first political tshirt I’d ever bought, and for the record, it was not very political, and its irony only appears now. I don’t take a stance; all I could take was the opposite of one. IDK NOT TRUMP THO 2016, was the only political slogan I could bear to plaster onto my chest. It was the primaries at the time. Things obviously changed. Still, at the time, I got my absentee ballot and spent a long time in my dorm room with a pen not knowing what to fill out. What I filled out in the end was essentially worthless: it was a little streak of rebellion, a little streak of ink that went on to become 1% - maybe less - of the primary vote in my state. A stance of nothingness.
Today, the English Undergraduate Association at Rice hosted a "Resistance Read-In," an event where any member of the community could read a piece of writing - poetry or prose, original or not - that they thought represented or had come from a people that had not been heard, or a group that were not being listened to. Political stance of the event aside, the key here was being listened to. And it was about something hard: saying no when people either want you to say yes, or don't want you to say anything at all. “Our goal is to fill today with sounds of acceptance and solidarity,” read the signs on all side of Willy’s Statue.
As people walked through the Academic Quad today, passing between their classes as they normally would, there was a surprising amount of silence. Most of the people going about there day were forced to listen to the single voice – cutting and demanding attention, asking to be heard. There’s something about listening that’s hard on this campus. Maybe it’s just the fact that there’s a helicopter landing on a building nearby, churning through the clouds to suck all the words out of the air. Or maybe it’s just the fact that we just don’t try very hard.
The read-in asked for people to say no and for people to listen, but it’s not as those two things always go hand-in-hand. I’ve heard far too many voices saying no so loudly they won’t listen to people saying yes, either. In writing, we can say much, but only some of our voices carry. Some of them are closed in poetry books or wrapped up on the sites we never read. I would argue that some people in this country have gotten used to being invisible and never should have needed to – and if you feel silenced, shout. There’s no need to tear the helicopters out of the sky and smash their pieces on the ground, because if we say listen instead of no, if we make the space and say we're listening, voices will shine out - over the helicopters and over the passerby.
Today, there were a lot of incredible pieces read and a lot of incredible lessons learned. We heard all sorts of voices, some sad, some absolutely elated, and all of those voices are valid. It can be difficult for us to realize that sometimes. Today's read-in was important to a lot of people and an excellent event, because it reminded us of the incredible voices that are out there and the incredible power of the written word - that which makes the air around it still and the people around it listen. I ask you to consider a thought by Jose Marti, read clearly and confidently this morning: that "Trenches of ideas are worth more than trenches of stone."
Written by Erika S.
Brazos Bookstore, an independent bookstore located conveniently at the edge of Rice Village, has become my new happy place. From the outside, it looks nondescript, its darkened windows blending seamlessly into the beige strip mall walls. It could be a nail parlor, or a dry cleaner, or a secondhand grocery store. Opening the door, however, you are greeted with bright shelves piled high with books.
Just the aesthetic appeal of a sunlit room wallpapered with colorful book sides is enough to make my day, but Brazos has much more. It’s a small bookstore, only a single room, but it makes the most out of the space, keeping few duplicates on hand and cramming every surface with more books. The wide selection is supplemented by the handwritten staff recommendation cards dotting the walls. I can enter the store with no sense of direction, read a few blurbs, and come away with a new stack of books I want to read. The staff members themselves are some of the greatest resources Brazos has to offer. They are well read and extremely helpful. Each writes articles for the bookstore’s website, populating it with reviews and interviews. The Brazos Bookstore staff also host events for fellow literature lovers, from book clubs to signings to readings, including their upcoming hosting of Zadie Smith.
Overall, Brazos Bookstore is more than a store. It’s a place where a small community of Houston readers can gather to celebrate books, and I highly recommend making the trek out to Bissonnet Street to experience it.
Written by Emma E.
For more information on Brazos, visit their website: http://www.brazosbookstore.com/ or go visit them!
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.