Friday, December 16, 2016

La La Land

I enjoyed La La Land; it's fun, light-weight entertainment with likable stars and straightforward (largely predictable) storyline. It doesn't ask much of the audience other than to enjoy the ride. During the award season release of heavy dramas, the film works well as a palate cleanser. However, I object to the growing consensus that it's one of the year's best films.

Writer/director Damien Chazelle's film is a nostalgic throwback to the golden age of the Hollywood musical, with a decidedly post-modernist slant. As a love story to Hollywood the film works well enough, as a musical the film runs into a few issues beginning with the choice to cast its stars based on their acting, rather than singing, ability.

In pretty much the most cliched set-up possible, we're introduced to barista and aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and promising Jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who meet cute, dislike each other, and eventually fall in love. Along the way there will be singing, dancing, the inevitable rough patch, and a questionable ending (not unlike Woody Allen's Café Society) which ends the movie on a sour note.

Although I enjoyed La La Land, given it's set-up (which seems tailor-made for me to love) I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed in the final product. While the film's catchy score keeps things moving, the songs (all sung in a conversational style) are completely forgettable. And despite a couple of big choreographed dance scenes, such as the movie's opening number taking place on the Los Angeles Freeway or our leads "spontaneously" tap dancing to the view of Los Angeles, the movie never seems to be able to recapture the magic of the old school musical which it tries so desperately to honor and emulate.

If you are looking for an enjoyable distraction at the movies La La Land will offer just that. I just wanted more from it than it seems those involved in the project had in mind. It's fluff, but it's largely entertaining fluff. Stone and Gosling work well on-screen together (even if some of their musical numbers fall flat). The bizarre ending, which is the definition of attempting to have your cake and eat it too, doesn't do the movie any favors, but for while it lasts Chazelle's film is a fun ride.

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