L.A. Land | La La Land (2017) Review

Damien Chazelle made a lot of noise at the 2015 Oscars, with his film, Whiplash (2015) — a film, which I loved. He was back this year with what seemed like a shoe-in for best picture: a tribute to the classic musicals of the 60s. La La Land (2017), stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as Sebastian and Mia; star-crossed lovers, both desperately pursuing their dream of becoming stars in Hollywood. Unfortunately they find that dreams are not made a reality overnight. As Whiplash taught us, sacrifices need to be made.

La La Land is a joy to watch. It didn’t necessarily make me feel any strong emotions like Whiplash, it didn’t make me think a lot, nor did it blow me away with operational aesthetics, but it was a hell of a lot of fun and I think there’s more to it than people have given it credit. Damien Chazelle does a great job of encapsulating a neat and tidy plot in just over two hours of glossy footage, and entertaining the hell out of his audience. However, it seemed like a mistake that this film was nominated for Academy Awards, because it just didn’t have that quality — that’s not that it wasn’t a quality film. We tend to deify Oscars nominees as films that change the game or even change our lives, but La La Land could never achieve that because it was simply a fun tribute to its predecessors.

That being said, the songs are incredibly catchy. Perhaps it was the theatre I was in, but it seemed like the songs were mixed properly, when I was watching the film. I couldn’t hear the singing very well and I wasn’t swept away by the tunes either. However, upon listening to the soundtrack afterwards, I have come to realise these are some of the most catchy show tunes I’ve ever heard — certainly worthy of those that came before them. I find myself humming ‘Another Day of Sun’ and ‘Someone in the Crowd’ on a near daily basis, even months after seeing the film. And even if I couldn’t appreciate the singing in theatre, I could appreciate the dancing, the choreography, and the elaborate set designs, which contributed to the energy of the songs.

Like I said, during the film I couldn’t really hear the singing, however it didn’t stop me realising that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were not the strongest singers. They do a good job acting out some complex emotional scenes together, as is expected from two of Hollywood’s most popular young actors, but I didn’t feel the vital romantic chemistry between them. They also each individually have scenes where their acting talents shine, but a lot of the film features both together, meaning a majority of the film fell flat.

The ‘message’ of Ryan Gosling’s arc seems to be that it is not enough to always imitate the original artists you admire. Sebastian is always striving to play piano just like the jazz legends he admires but he struggles to find an audience for it, as people want to see innovation. A lot of people take issue with Sebastian being a white character, but it seemed to me that the reason the character is white is to remind the audience that he is just a pale imitation of his predecessors. It also seems that the film uses this self-aware casting to draw attention to the fact that it is a pale imitation itself. Albeit one, which is a lot of fun, but doesn’t quite innovate enough with its style and narrative to truly ‘change the game’. This film could almost be a film in two parts, and hopefully Chazelle chooses to intentionally innovate with his next film, rather than tribute.