Movie Review: LA LA LAND
Plot: Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) is a young barista trying to make it in Hollywood as an actress. One night while walking home after her car is towed, she chances to walk into a nightclub. There she encounters Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) an aspiring jazz artist. Before long the two spark up a romance the likes of which only Hollywood can create. But can their love for each other survive amidst each one’s dreams?
Review: With a few minor exceptions (Sweeney Todd, Guys and Dolls, Les Mis), musicals have never been my bag. So bearing that in my mind, my assessment of director Damien Chazelle’s LA LA LAND may be slightly askew. Perspective and personal preference in this case is literally everything. Odds are if you’re a fan of musicals, you’ll probably dig the Hell out of Chazelle’s homage to 1950s classics like Singin’ In The Rain. Personally, I found the film moderately entertaining at best.
From a production standpoint LA LA LAND hits all the high notes. The bright primary color scheme pops off the screen in a dynamic fashion. It’s the polar opposite of the gray pastiche of Manchester by the Sea. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren does his best Harold Rosson imitation, capturing the grandeur and mystique of Hollywood, whether it’s on a studio lot or a romantic song and dance number between Sebastian and Mia. Speaking of songs, LA LA LAND‘s music certainly delivers, with songs like “Audition” and “City of Stars” (both of which were nominated for Academy Awards) being particularly memorable here. Composer Justin Hurwitz is sure to bring home the gold this year at the Oscars.
My problem with LA LA LAND stems from the fact that it’s incredibly narcissistic and clear Oscar bait. We’ve seen this story a thousand times. A barista struggling to make it as an actress meets a kindred soul struggling to make their dream come true as well? What a freakin’ cliché. As great as the chemistry is between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, even their intriguing dynamic doesn’t excuse an overrated script by writer Damien Chazelle. There’s literally a scene where the two fly into the air. Ughhh. I think my eye roll could have been heard from space. The film paints a shiny veneer over a merciless town that spits out would-be movie stars like tobacco juice.
Maybe I’m being a little cynical because in general musicals are supposed to be uplifting. However, you can’t tell me Chazelle didn’t write and direct this film not knowing that it would garner him major accolades. For God’s sake it’s a Hollywood musical that celebrates Hollywood! How self-serving can you get? It’s no wonder LA LA LAND is up for fourteen Academy Award nominations. It’s somewhat infuriating too because Chazelle is the same guy who brought audiences Whiplash, arguably one of the best films this decade. Whiplash was an edgy and dark look at the power of a personal goal, yet managed to remain uplifting by the end. LA LA LAND is about as far removed from Whiplash as Hawaii is from Olympus Mons. The only thing not Hollywood about this film is the ending, which credit where it’s do, Chazelle makes a bold choice in that aspect.
In spite of my dislike of musicals, if you come away from this movie and haven’t fallen in love with Emma Stone, you need a vacation to Hoth to warm up. Stone is simply a delight here. While she’s proven her dramatic chops previously with Birdman, Stone takes it to a whole new level here with Mia, showing a range and depth I haven’t seen before. My two favorite scenes–Mia’s second encounter with Sebastian at a ’80s theme party and a bitter fight between the two lovers in the third act–couldn’t be more different. Yet they were equally memorable because of Stone’s performance.
Gosling however is a different matter altogether. While his chemistry with Stone is first-rate, I’m at a loss as to why anyone thinks his performance was Oscar worthy. Gosling does a capable job as Sebastian and his singing and dancing scenes are strong. However, there’s nothing particularly Earth shattering or remarkable about Gosling’s performance. However, I will admit that I was able to relate to Sebastian’s passion about jazz, if only for the sentiment not the subject. That Gosling should be nominated for this performance and not Drive clearly demonstrates how obtuse the Academy can be sometimes.
Although the subject material clearly wasn’t to my liking, the fact that I cared about the exploits of Mia and Sebastian is a testament to Stone and Gosling’s chemistry. The fact that the two were able to overcome Chazelle’s saccharine and surface deep script only makes their efforts even more remarkable.
I must admit a slight bias when it comes to LA LA LAND and it’s because it will win the Oscar for Best Picture. Call Vegas now and bet the mortgage. It’s going to happen. And that’s unjust because it absolutely is NOT the Best Picture of 2016. Not by a long shot. Yet the Academy and Hollywood in general loves to fellate themselves any chance they get, so LA LA LAND‘s inevitable trek toward Oscar gold is assured. Yet much like past forgettable Oscar winners like Driving Miss Daisy and Shakespeare in Love, I believe LA LA LAND is a film destined for obscurity and a throwaway question on Trivial Pursuit. Chazelle’s film is the cotton candy of musicals. Initially sweet on the tongue but the flavor soon fades.
My rating System:
0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
My rating: 6/10