A wildly inconsistent movie, La La Land is a Hollywood masturbation session saved by solid performances from the two leads and a rather compelling story that is lost among the most forgettable musical numbers I have ever seen in a movie. That’s why this gets a negative review; if you are setting out to make a musical, at least give me a couple of fucking songs I can hum when I leave the theater. When everyone and their sister is singing the Hamilton soundtrack because it’s CATCHY, you can’t tell me someone in this universe can’t pen a song or two that could sell a soundtrack album. I could feel the breeze all the way on the east coast from such a massive whiff.
I’m not sure what to make of Ryan Gosling. There are times where he is giving an amazing performance and other times where I think he’s slipped into a coma, but maybe he was just tired from trying to sing out of his natural range. I still give him a pass for 3L; he and Emma Stone handled the weak songs and managed to keep the movie alive until we got to the normal movie scenes, which, I repeat, were pretty interesting. Not great, but good.
The directing was far and away the best part of this film, with some pretty cool shots, and a lot of creativity in the dance/music numbers. The scene in the planetarium is cheesy but quaint, and I found it delightful. We’re not talking Astaire/Rogers, but at least enjoyable.
A musical that fails at music does not deserve many accolades, and so I give this film a frown.
SVEN: Chris’ warnings tempered my expectations, but I found this absolutely delightful. The colors pop, the pace cooks, and the performers simmer. I contest Chris’ assertion that the music holds the movie back. While I don’t think the numbers reach The Lion King (or even Sing Street) levels, I will always recognize this song and this theme, both of which followed me out of the theater.
That said, the main thing that surprised me about this musical was the scarcity of music. Singing, dancing, and musicianship permeate, but a good deal of the story plays out in traditional dialog scenes.
As a creative person and professional artist, I am potentially predisposed to favor stories about artistic struggle. Even so, I suspect each lead’s all-consuming drive to pursue their dreams carries a universal appeal/relatability. Just because a movie tells the story of people involved in movies/entertainment does not mean the people in movies/entertainment don’t struggle, hurt, triumph, and have stories worth telling. If you want to read La La Land as Hollywood jerking itself off, you certainly can. However, I would argue that the filmmakers are using a world they know inside/out as a backdrop to speak to a universal struggle/truth. The movie proudly emblazons a nostalgia for a bygone film era on its sleeves, but so do 4 of every 10 movie/television projects these days. La La Land’s admiration of Hollywood musicals is only more conspicuous than, say, Super 8 or Stranger Things‘ admiration of 80’s family sci-fi because La La Land takes place in the Los Angeles entertainment industry and Super 8/ST do not.
I think Gosling and Stone are great here and great together. The movie trades heavily on their charisma, and that decision pays off. Side question: Who is more likable than Emma Stone on screen? Anyone? She’s very good at acting, but I wonder; could she ever play an unlikable character?
I’m mixed on the ending. On one hand, I find it a little farfetched that both characters achieve their wildest personal ambitions. The sheer unlikeliness of this staggers. Of course, on the other hand, in terms of romance, the movie swats the rote Hollywood ending into the fifth row of the bleachers (while simultaneously indulging us with a fantastic “what could have been” sequence). It’s hard for me to pin down my feelings because you have two characters achieving such ridiculously unlikely goals in a brilliantly cinematic sequence that’s otherwise one of the movie’s best.
CHRIS: While not necessarily fair to compare to one of the top ten musicals of all time, I recently attended a Fathom/TCM screening of Singin’ in the Rain. With the infectious, catchy songs, high energy, creative dance numbers, and overflowing charm, Singin’ in the Rain only highlights the bland, unmemorable music and lackluster songs of La La Land. To think that SITR received nary an Oscar but LLL is likely to win Best Picture only adds to the argument that awards are not representative of product.