La La Land Review

Posted: October 26, 2016 in 2016 London Film Festival, Musical, Reviews
Tags: , , , ,

La La LandSimply put, La La Land is empty calories.

The film is a beautiful confection of color with huge amounts of artificial sweetener added to hide the rather stale ingredients that constitute the story. The resulting concoction produces a sugar rush of excitement initially, but the effect wears off well before the end of the 128-minute runtime, leaving viewers logy and dispirited.

It’s boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl all against the painfully familiar backdrop of HOLLYWOOD!, because in HOLLYWOOD! anything can happen and does with absolute painful predictability. After all, it’s HOLLYWOOD! Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a pianist who dreams of opening a jazz club. Gee, you think the odds might be against them? Well, then you don’t know…

HOLLYWOOD!

But not to worry as director/screenwriter Damien Chazelle provides a crash course in cliches. Even if you have not seen a single musical from the 1950’s, you will still feel as if you have seen them all by the conclusion of La La Land. Not to overstate – the film is too technically proficient to be considered a bomb. The cinematography, editing, and art and production design are fantastic. The movie dazzles when you don’t have to think about it. Unfortunately, the plot keeps getting in the way of that.

It is unclear whether a different pairing at the top of the bill could have pulled this off, and it is equally unclear what possessed someone to cast Stone and Gosling as the singing, dancing star-crossed lovers. The best thing one can say about Gosling’s singing is that it’s not as bad as Pierce Brosnan’s in Mamma Mia!, although it does sound like he is struggling with a hairball during some numbers. Stone fares better vocally, although it would be fascinating to find out if it’s actually her voice or that of Baraka May (credited as Singer) that we are hearing. As for the choreography, it acknowledges the limitations of the leads.

Throw in the improbability and awkwardness of the segues into the musical numbers, and you might even think that Mel Brooks has a hand in staging them as they bring back fond memories of scenes from Blazing Saddles, The Producers and High Anxiety, except that in La La Land, it all comes without a trace of irony. The opening scene takes us to a crowded Los Angeles freeway during rush hour traffic, where drivers abandon their vehicles to sing and dance before resuming their place behind the wheel, honking their horns and flipping each other off. If that works for you, you just might come out of the theater humming the title tune, which is “something, something, something…and the mess that we make.

Chazelle’s last feature, Whiplash, was silly as well, but it was so damn entertaining that you didn’t mind. The filming of the jazz band scenes and J.K. Simmons deliciously over-the-top turn as the Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant as music teacher were enjoyable enough that no one begrudged its undeserved nomination for Best Picture. Perhaps lightning will strike twice for Chazelle, but the early accolades for the film coming from the festival circuit have an emperor’s new clothes feel to them. It will be interesting to see if the positive support is maintained once La La Land hits U.S. theaters in December.

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Comments
  1. reocochran says:

    It is supposed to be unique and artistic. Does it seem newer than other musicals?
    I will still go see it, but I understand that we may be of different opinions. Of course, I could come back and apologize. 🙂

  2. Mr. Karma says:

    No need to apologize – most reviews have been extremely positive. It just didn’t work for me. I would encourage you to see for yourself!

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