There are no faces I’d rather stare at for two hours than Emma Stone’s and Ryan Gosling’s. In La La Land, the two beauts play a couple of dreamers who start off on the wrong foot, yet fall in love all while trying to pursue their dreams. (You can almost “yada yada yada” the plot when explaining it.) For Mia, it’s acting, toughing it out in the audition circuit, enduring failure after failure. For Sebastian, it’s buying the building that was once a legendary jazz haunt and opening his own club. Stone shows a remarkable vulnerability that tugs at your heartstrings whenever she’s faced with adversity. Gosling is magical and manly, exemplifying what it means to live and breathe one’s passion. Overall, the film is optimistic and bright, with lots of pretty faces, an able cast and some nice little ditties, but is that enough to win Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards?
The answer is a mixed bag.
Damien Chazelle’s musical dramedy doesn’t suffer from any missteps. As leads, Gosling and Stone are everything you want them to be–dazzling, charming, poignant. Whether in song and dance, or spoken word, these two are pros at making their characters relatable, which grounds the movie despite its swanky Hollywood setting and flashy side-characters they meet (and get rejected by) along the way. There’s also some heavy-hitting though entirely underused supporting actors in their midst as well. While it would’ve been nice to see a little more from Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons and Finn Wittrock, their presence goes to show the caliber of talent in La La‘s repertoire.
Chazelle’s direction along with the movie’s cinematography (courtesy of Linus Sandgren) are perhaps the most rave-worthy elements of the classic musical revival. (In addition to the lighting and color schemes used, which were also quite strong.) The camera work is no joke. Consider the opening traffic jam scene. Sandgren covers the gamut, climbing onto cars, soaring over the chorus’s heads, taking sharp 180 degree turns before dipping low and rising again like a phoenix. It’s as close to a ride as you can get in a theater seat. This is an Oscar win I can get behind, and I’d say the same for Chazelle.
Musicals are a hard feat to pull off. The camera needs to work overtime to catch all that intricate choreography. The songs need to both serve the story and its characters, and be good enough to be remembered. Musicals need to be BIG, which is why so many film adaptations struggle when compared to their Broadway counterparts. What’s great about La La Land is that it’s an original story that’s not overly complicated. It’s a sincere homage to classic Hollywood, one I appreciate due to its respect for its predecessors. While it’s an enjoyable movie that you should definitely go see if you feel inclined, I found it all to go in one ear and out the other. I enjoyed the jazz performed in the film, but only one track actually resonated with me—”Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”—and it’s hardly a show stopper. I felt that La La Land, though well executed and a very nice, pretty film, didn’t have those big moments that steal your breath away and dominate conversation in the car ride home. I yearned for something more, more emotion, more earworms, more moments. It had heart, but I still felt mildly underwhelmed. To be fair, a second viewing may change that, and I’ll definitely watch it again.
I feel like this review is similar to the comments I got on an Art History paper once: “An honest effort,” my professor wrote to me, amid other kind pleasantries. It was sort of like: “Hey man, A for effort…buuut you get a B.” That basically sums up my feelings about La La Land.
If it wins Best Picture, I won’t be disappointed. Maybe a shiny, happy film is exactly what we needed after a troubling, worrisome 2016. Maybe that lightness is exactly what Academy voters will respond to. I’d just like to hold out for something a little deeper, a little more powerful—but not necessarily more proficient technically—to take home the prize instead. (That Gosling sure is a handsome fella though.) Grade: B