1 Year 100 Reviews — La La Land

I had been curious about La La Land for some time now and had planned on seeing it. But, once I saw it win pretty much all the awards at the Golden Globes, I felt like I had to see this movie. Basically, now my interest was less about whether or not it was any good to whether or not it was overrated.

La La Land is a love-letter to Hollywood, from Hollywood, that celebrates the bygone days of big, showy musicals and Jazz. If you wondered why this movie is winning all these awards, that last sentence alone should answer that. But, this movie was a genuine joy to watch and deserves a lot of the praise it is getting. Sure, it is fairly overrated, but not by all that much.

In it, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star as two people who dream of making it big in Los Angeles. Stone is a struggling actress and Gosling is an old-soul piano prodigy who dreams of reviving the dying Jazz scene. The two fall in love and strive to support each other in the pursuit of their dreams while struggling with the reality of earning enough to make ends meet. It is all stuff you have probably seen before and can probably guess how it will end up for our protagonists.

But, that really is the charm of the whole movie. Nothing in it is surprising or wholly original, but is novel because movies these days are nothing like it. This movie is a celebration of genres that have been absent far too long from the silver screen. I cannot think of the last time an original musical was written for Hollywood, or the last time a major studio release was all about Jazz.

The biggest thing that La La Land gets right is the ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that it was surprising considering how predictable the rest of the movie felt. This is yet another movie with an end that surprised me with how unconventional it was. It really goes to show that the definition of a “happy” ending is much broader than what most movies tend to believe.

Not everything about La La Land is worthy of praise, though.

I feel like I must be taking crazy-pills, because I thought Gosling’s singing was pretty bad. Okay, so it was not terrible, but it was serviceable at best and often fell below even that mark. But, I cannot deny the remarkable aptitude he has in his other talents. His dancing is on-point and smooth, his piano playing is shockingly brilliant, and casting him as a smarmy hipster was an immaculate fit. I am sure that he was selected for his star-power and insane range of abilities, but he is a mediocre replacement for the likes of Gene Kelly. Not to mention that his acting came off as aloof and uncharismatic. I am just saying that I would bet another actor or someone from Broadway would have done much better, but were overlooked because they were not sufficiently famous.

Emma Stone, on the other hand, runs circles around Gosling in her performance. Stone has an ability to make her acting seem second-nature as well as emotive and convincing. She could have carried this whole movie herself. Her singing was surprisingly good, as well.

The director, Damien Chazelle, definitely deserves accolades for his work on this movie. Not only does he clearly have a passion for this kind of film, but he also knows how to present it brilliantly. The musical numbers maintain a rhythm to throughout, even when no music is playing. The way he interweaves an ironic love-hate relationship with Los Angeles never felt pretentious. But speaking of pretentious, I do wish his use of long takes was not so overdone. Half the scenes do not benefit from the long-take and the other half are diminished by it. For instance, using a long take on the opening scene leads to sloppy choreography as well as awkward and unfocused lighting. I suppose the intention was to recreate the feeling of watching a stage production, but it is better omitted if it actively interferes with the filmmaking process.

My biggest wish for this movie would be that there were more musical numbers. On looking back, there were only around 5 of them, one of which was a reprise. For a movie over two hours long, and with four of those songs happening within the first act, it just feels like more musical numbers were needed. I almost forgot that it had musical numbers until the climax.

I think it is sufficient praise to say that I genuinely hope La La Land is successful and paves the way for more movies like it to come. Not everything needs to cost $100 million dollars to be good; all they need is to know is how to hit all the right notes. If you like movies that celebrate Hollywood, lament how modern culture “worships everything and values nothing”, or just are a fan of musicals; then you should go and support this movie.