La La Land
La La Land
Release Date: December 9th, 2016
Distributor: Summit Pictures
Directed and written by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling
La La Land is a musical film about the romance between a hopeful actress and a jazz musician. It is an homage to the movie musicals of Hollywood's Golden Age and has been nominated for a record-tying 14 Oscars. It's also won 7 Golden Globes, all part of a substantial and impressive list of accolades and awards.
And I really didn't enjoy it.
I'm reviewing this at a time in the film's popularity cycle where the backlash has begun in earnest, and people become defensive of what they enjoy, so I feel I need to make this clear before we continue. I loathe the "making it big in show business" trope, but I tried to temper this distaste when seeing this in theaters. I'm also a huge musical fan. So in a way, I figured I'd break even on whether or not I would initially enjoy it.
La La Land has a lot going for it. For one, Emma Stone is an excellent actress, and she deserves every ounce of praise she's been given for this film. There are some creative dance numbers, gorgeous costumes, and colorful set pieces and backdrops. It's a love letter to an idealized sugar-coated version of Los Angeles (if you're into that sort of thing) as well as those older musicals where the songs have little to do with plot progression.
In every other regard, the movie falls flat. I didn't find the music engaging, and nothing about it seemed toe-tappingly catchy or even memorable. Ryan Gosling sure is pretty, and he plays a mean piano and does some nice dance moves, but his voice isn't phenomenal, and neither is his acting. It's almost funny how much he pales in comparison to Stone's fierce presence. And despite her great performance, Stone isn't exactly a vocal powerhouse either.
The film can't seem to figure out what tone it's going for, switching awkwardly between fantasy and realism like a car stalling as it shifts gears. It's inexcusably bland, and no amount of vibrant colors or costuming can hide the fact that this film's soul is beige. The central conflict, if you can even call it that, is Gosling's character's inability to enjoy his success due to his snobbishness, and Stone's character giving him crap about their relationship and what his career means for him. Yes, they're both dreamers, and they get what they want in the end, but at what cost (yawn). Honestly, not very much, actually. It's a first-world problem sort of film, which isn't in itself an issue, but it only exacerbates the overall lack of conflict, direction, or narrative.
I'm not sure how to best articulate my feelings about this movie, but there's something very inherently "white" about the whole thing. There are some slightly problematic issues with race representation in the movie and the state of jazz (which are better articulated in these links than I could ever do). In the end, I found La La Land boring and without real substance. It's not a terrible movie, but it's not that good either. And it certainly doesn't deserve the praise it has been receiving, nor is it some exemplary representation of its genres.