REVIEW: La La Land
La La Land opens on a traffic jam on the Los Angeles freeway. People begin to sing, get out of their cars and burst into a big musical number. It’s the movie declaring itself an old school musical and saying “fuck you” to anyone who might have a problem with that.
La La Land opens on a traffic jam on the Los Angeles freeway. People begin to sing, get out of their cars and burst into a big musical number. It’s the movie declaring itself an old school musical and saying “fuck you” to anyone who might have a problem with that. I don’t have a problem with that. I’m all for a movie being a musical and not being ashamed of it. We rarely get them, and even when we do they often feel like they’re holding back somehow. The Jungle Book has like one and a half musical numbers in it; it feels caught between worlds. Whereas Moana really follows through on being musical throughout. The problem is that the opening musical number in La La Land kinda sucks, and the movie sucks at being a musical in general.
For one the sound mixing was just bad. The music drowns out the singers in bigger moments. I could barely understand the words people were singing in that opening number, but more damningly Emma Stone gets drowned out during her big character moment, when she sings a song at an interview for a role. This is a musical where the musical part of it was a let down for me, which is a shame because I do kinda like the movie.
When the movie goes for quieter moments I think it’s much more effective at being musical. There’s a riff that Ryan Gosling fiddles with on the piano throughout the movie, and kinda becomes the musical representation of the bond him and Emma Stone make, and that really works. It’s the one part of the movie that really wormed its way into my brain, which is good because that’s the one piece of music that comes up again and again.
But it doesn’t line up with whatever this movie wants to present it self as: this big audacious musical. So the core of the movie, this melancholic riff, that represents the tragic romance of our heroes, ends up being at odds with the vision of itself the movie has; the thing that feels like its mission statement. Things also get muddied because the movie doesn’t have anything to say about musicals, clearly writer/director Damien Chazelle wants there to be more of them, but the movie ends up waxing nostalgic on just general old Hollywood and Jazz much more than musicals. This is a pretty simple movie, it’s not like a deep dive on any of these topics, and so it feels stretched thin by being pulled in these different directions.
There’s also just an undercurrent of pretension that gets to me by the end. The way the movie’s about white people talking about how great jazz is; the conclusion of Emma Stone’s pursuit of acting is all about how rich and famous she is now and the art of acting kinda gets brushed aside; Ryan Gosling’s character is just in general a pretentious piece of shit and I don’t think the movie quite nails the landing on his personal character arc.
This is a movie that could have been great, but ends up being just ok. There’s a final montage that works to music and it almost saves the entire movie for me. This is a very talented director so there are times when this movie just looks amazing. I think the two leads give very good performances, and the arc of their relationship works, and is the core of the film.
The stuff that’s insufferable about the story it is all stuff that’ll make it really appeal to Academy voters come Oscar time though. Which is a small extra kind of frustrating.
This is movie that for sure has highlights (J. K. Simmons is great for the 2 min he’s onscreen.) but it was ultimately a disappointing movie for me because of the parts that drag down the experience.