La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle.
Screenplay: Damien Chazelle.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, John Legend, Tom Everett Scott, Callie Hernandez, Jessica Rothe, Josh Pence, Finn Wittrock, Keith Harris.
“I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired. Then I’ll hit back. It’s a classic rope-a-dope”
The Hollywood musical has all but become a thing of the past and a genre that few filmmakers attempt anymore. If I’m honest, it’s really no loss to me. Musicals are not something that I’m overly enthusiastic about. Growing up, I remember liking Grease and contemporary ones like Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge and, especially, John Turturro’s Romance and Cigarettes were very enjoyable but, for the most part, I often overlook them. That said, with a record equaling 14 Oscar nominations and a record breaking 7 Golden Globe wins, Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to the impressive Whiplash can not be scoffed at.
Plot: Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress in Hollywood struggling to catch a break. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is in the same boat as he dreams of getting out of playing cocktails bars and becoming a serious jazz musician. Their paths cross and as their relationship blossoms, they are faced with either stardom or holding onto true love instead.
Song, dance, razzmatazz and Jazz are what’s on the menu with Chazelle’s latest. Whether you enjoy musicals or not will most likely play a huge part in your enjoyment of it, though. Technically, it’s wonderful and Chazelle has a real handle on his musical numbers and choreography. It’s also quite beautiful to behold. There’s no arguing with the style on show here as it’s quite a dazzling picture. However, there’s very little substance underneath it’s style. It suffers from a generic romantic plot and there’s a few too many musical ditties to cover up it’s glamorously dull narrative.
I actually think I might have enjoyed it more had it been tighter. For a start it’s way overlong and overstays it’s welcome by a good half hour. There isn’t enough material here to warrant its 2hrs 8mins running time. In fact, Chazelle really wrings the material out at the end. To paraphrase one of my six-year-old daughter’s more unusual quips: ‘He held onto this like he was strangling a baby’s neck‘. Don’t get me wrong, though, the end sequence cleverly brings things full circle and doesn’t succumb to formula but I got the distinct feeling that Chazelle never wanted it to finish. Like a rebuffed lover, he refused to let go. And who can blame him when he’s having so much fun? I, on the hand, had had enough by that point.
This being said, it is hard to be unkind to the film as there’s an obvious array of quality on display; David Wasco’s production design is a sumptuous palette of colour and Linus Sandgren’s cinematography captures it beautifully. It’s also got two delightful lead performances; Gosling showcases some genuinely impressive piano skills while Stone delivers a wide range of abilities and both of them display an adeptness at their song and dance routines.
Credit where it’s due, Chazelle has successfully brought the musical into the modern era with this, unashamedly, nostalgic piece. It’s a charming film but not one that excited or entertained me as much it has others. Those that enjoy romantic or musical films will find much more to embrace here and will, undoubtedly, rank it higher than I have. I can’t argue with that and I can’t say it’s a bad film. I appreciated it for what is but musicals in general don’t really have me singing from the rooftops.
Trivia: Emma Watson turned down the role of Mia due to scheduling conflicts with Beauty and the Beast (2017), while Ryan Gosling turned down the role of the Beast in that film to appear in this one. Coincidentally, both are musicals.