Director: Damien Chazelle
Black Label Media/Gilbert Films/Imposter Pictures
If there is one thing the Academy loves it’s a film that celebrates Hollywood and the Hollywood Dream – so La La Land is up for a bunch of awards. Ludicrous really, and if it sweeps as many as predicted it’ll be like that hollow time when people thought Moulin Rouge a strong award candidate, and even worse – a ‘good’ film. La La Land is simply High School Musical for adults. Its long single-take opening has a bunch of colourful costumes dancing atop cars in a traffic jam. If you squint you can almost see real live human beings behind the flashing teeth.
La La Land is vacuous and flimsy – but there’s a downside too. It has almost nothing to say. Also, shockingly for a musical, its songs are not robust, nor memorable after the final curtain. The leads are miscast, particularly Ryan Gosling who needs to simply sit in the car and brood. That’s what he’s supposed to do in a movie. And when he strays too far from there he’s lost – and losing appeal. Emma Stone – I have never understood. And she’s thin-voiced when singing, though in the final scene’s musical number she does offer something special I guess. Gosling is also ropey as a singer, and unconvincing as a musician.
His embarrassingly idealistic Sebastian is a jazz purist, see. But when he and Mia (Stone) manage to get past two angry meetings to eventually Meet-Cute Seb doesn’t take long to be convinced he should take the offered pay-check of a gig playing not-really-jazz-at-all with John Legend’s band. Legend plays Keith, a guitarist in need of Seb’s skills on the keys. Soon he’s locked in a vicious tour/record/tour cycle that’s not really been part of the dream of succeeding. I say soon – it takes over half the fucking film.
I also resented this white-as-fuck take on jazz being so great. There’s barely any jazz in the film and the platitudes flung at it come from characters that wouldn’t even get to Kind of Blue but would consider Norah Jones on the cutting edge…
La La Land is so utterly embarrassing in its conceit, its premise – it’s almost comical that anyone might take anything from it beyond the fact that it does dress up nice. It looks cool – it is good to look at, but what does that really mean? The quick defense will be to say that the Golden Age musicals were all flimsy and soft and weak – in plot – but that’s not necessarily so. And even if that is the case they made their case through wonderful dance sequences, great songs – and singing – and also in their nods and winks to any ‘just-like-in-the-movies’ daydreaming or silliness. La La Land wants to be meta but just ends up feeling uptight, precious and yet still bonkers-grade absurd.
With Whiplash – a film that had problems, sure – Chazelle managed to dig at something beyond music and musical skill, chops, appreciation. There – buried in and around rimshots and flams and rolls – was a story that could have existed without the music-school setting. La La Land only exists because of/for its musical setting. And then it’s just a total let-down, clunky, slow, safe, dull, boring. And then there are the musical numbers. Few and far between and woeful.