La La Land is Overrated

la la land movie poster3star“This is the dream! It’s conflict and it’s compromise, and it’s very, very exciting!”

La La Land’s ode to old Hollywood has re-ignited our love affair with musicals and the magic seldom seen on screen, but while this movie reminds me why I love classics of yesteryear, it’s respectful homage is also a reminder that it will never match those classics it honors.

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Bogart and Bacall. Tracy and Hepburn. Stone and Gosling? I can’t quite stomach the idea of the latter couple on the same pedestal as the power couples of the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema, but La La Land desperately wants you to believe that Stone and Gosling are the 21st century golden couple.

With a massive 12 nominations from the Critics Choice Awards, La La Land is proving to be the movie to beat this year as critics hail it “the years best” and “an instant classic,” but Ryan Gosling tap dancing around a light pole at dusk doesn’t make him Gene Kelly.

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Writer and director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to his breakout film Whiplash (nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, and won three, for editing, sound mixing and J.K. Simmons as Supporting Actor) once again focuses on music and performances, but this film is strikingly different from Whiplash.

La La Land follows Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist, who falls for aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) in Los Angeles. Chazelle’s love letter to the city of Los Angeles is not sugar-coated as one may expect, but is a more realistic portrait of the challenging reality of what it takes to make it in Tinseltown.

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Chazelle admits that both films reflect his own experiences as a film-maker working his way up the Hollywood ladder.

“There’s something to be said for having even unrealistic dreams. Even if the dreams don’t come true – that to me is what’s beautiful about Los Angeles. It’s full of these people who have moved there to chase these dreams. A lot of those people are told by people around them that they’re crazy, or that they’re living in la la land. I wanted to make a movie that saluted them a little bit, and that kind of unrealistic state of mind.”

“Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache. Here’s to the mess we make,” sings Emma Stone’s character at an audition. Jazz, dreams, musical scenes and an ode to Hollywood wrapped into a two hour film is a dream film for the Academy.

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As Chazelle explains, this is a film for those who love movies, the arts, music, Los Angeles, musicals.  And as ambitious as Chazelle may be, I think he tried to cover too much…there was too much tackled in a two hour span. The musical component of the film felt unnecessary (at times even awkward), and let me be the first to admit that neither Stone nor Gosling are singers. It’s apparent that Chazelle was inspired by the likes of Top Hat, Singin’ in the Rain and A Star is Born, and he desperately wanted to emulate those classics. But his undeniable imitation, or ode if you will, only reminds me why we call old Hollywood the classical era of Hollywood. You simply can’t replicate it.

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“Chazelle opens with the old CinemaScope logo in the same way that Tarantino opens his films with vintage logos and teasers. The difference is that Tarantino understands the movies he’s pulling from and Chazelle doesn’t. Homage isn’t just playing the notes, or oversaturating the colours. La La Land is tone deaf. It has no catchy tunes, no extraordinary numbers (although there are a couple of big ones); it’s directed by the wrong person and written by the wrong person, who happen to be the same guy. Oh, and there’s a Baz Luhrmann scene with dancing among the stars. Swoon. The ‘No Dames’ number in Hail Caesar! is the most devastating critique of La La Land possible, doing in five minutes what this film fails to do for what seems like hours.” via Walter Chaw at Film Freak Central

Despite my complaints and critiques, the film’s greatest asset is Emma Stone. This is her third movie romantically paired with Gosling, and their chemistry in this one is minimal. While Gosling gives an occasional brooding glance, trying his best James Dean imitation, it’s Stone who is steals every scene. Gosling appears to just be going through the motions on screen, but it’s Stone who gives me goosebumps. I’ve warmed up to her more in recent years, and her personal touches to this character’s awkward silliness is actually endearing and fitting. Expect a nomination for her performance, but whether or not it’s worthy of a win depends on the other nominees.

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While Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire glided effortlessly cheek to cheek, Stone and Gosling’s musical numbers appear unnecessary, choreographed and going through the motions of Chazelle’s dream on screen. Chazelle may light up the screen with another beautiful film, and gives a breath of fresh air back to the musical genre, but this “masterpiece” sadly fell a little flat for me. Not my tempo.

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83 thoughts on “La La Land is Overrated

      • It can give all the love it wants to the film by paying tribute to the classics, but that’s all it is in the end, A tribute, a dam good tribute that can inspire you if you’re the right person, but none the less a tribute to a better period of musicals that will never have the same effect as now a days musicals unless they are set in an older period like Chicago.

  1. Your headlines crack me up. I still really want to see and like this movie. I’m not a huge fan of people saying this movie is supposed to make us “fall in love with musicals again” I’m still in love with musicals. It’s not as if we haven’t had a huge musical hit in decades. Les Miserables says “hi.”

    • Les Mis wasn’t exactly popular with general audiences, in my opinion. I wanted to like this one so badly…I really did. Go check it out when you can and don’t let my review sway you…but keep it in mind. I’ll look forward to your review! 🙂

    • That’s just it. I hate when they do that, Les Miserables and frigging Chicago, Nine, Into the Woods, Sweeny Todd. I think the headlines should be “A Marvellous Musical for Todays Age”. I think Hollywood has took one look at this and said, fuck it where gonna push this to the moon with praise and then the critics for what ever reason believe it’s the most brilliant thing they’ve ever seen, then you got these ‘film fans’ and ‘Musical addicts’ saying it’s changed there life. It’s not that good. Wizard of Oz was brilliant, Fantasia was brilliant, West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof were brilliant. La La Land is musical film that came out in 2016 when everyone was just thinking the world is cruel, it’s not the god of all musicals.

  2. La La Land really wasn’t a film I had planned on see, until I read your review. I’m not big on musicals. But I’ve heard some of the hype and began to think, could this be 2016’s big award winner?
    From what you’ve said, I think I’ll see it (kinda hoping you are correct) so when I’m rooting for my favorites as awards are given out, I can honestly say why one film deserves it more than another. Thanks for the review.

  3. Fantastic review! La La Land is one of my most anticipated films of the year (probably more than Rogue One) and I won’t be able to watch it until next week 😦 Thanks, Canada.

  4. R: Completely disagree (we saw at the London Film Festival and loved it) but a great review. Well done for avoiding the groupthink! I do wonder if sky high expectations might hurt the movie in the long run…

  5. It so happens that I just saw this film last night so it’s still fresh in my mind. Though I agree I think it’s a tad overrated (I still believe Moonlight is a better and more emotional film), I like it a lot. No, Stone/Gosling is no Bogart and Bacall, that’s for sure. In fact, the movie is more of an homage to ‘the fools who dream’ than the love story of the leads. And that ‘dare to dream’ theme resonates with me in a huge way.

    I had just posted my thoughts on Golden Globes, and I still wish Moonlight had gotten more noms.

    • I just wasn’t moved by La La Land the way I was by Moonlight. Moonlight is such an important movie and subject, and it just so happens to be really well done. I’ll go check out your golden globe post! Thanks for your thoughts as always, Ruth!

      • You’re so right. MOONLIGHT’s subject matter is more harrowing and that final scene hits me like a ton of bricks!! That’s why it’s still the film I’m rooting for in award season.

        I feel like the emotional high of La La Land hits me in the scene where Mia sang in her last audition, the words of the song spoke to me, being an aspiring screenwriter myself… and I feel like I am one of those fools who dream 🙂

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  7. I got to see the movie twice and will say I found it more enjoyable during my second screening. However, I do wonder how Hollywood gets all the major outlet critics to agree on which movie is going to be “the darling” and everyone hops on board. I got a chance to interview Damien Chazelle, so I felt obligated to open my interview post with a positive look at the movie musical, but in actuality, I think it’s a good flick, well choreographed and cast, but I didn’t leave the theater either time feeling like I just witnessed magic.

    I also don’t understand why so many critics are saying it brings you back to a time when musicals were delightful. This movie may have some fanciful moments, but the crux of it is steeped in the reality that it’s hard to have a career in the arts and if you do, you’ll probably have to sacrifice other areas of your life. Plus the ending is terribly blue. When I think of the best movie musicals Gigi, Hello Dolly, Guys and Dolls, Meet me in St. Louis, they all end happy. http://www.tinseltine.com/2016/12/philly-interview-damien-chazelle-la-la.html

    • I found the ending to be actually perfect in the context of the story. I didn’t much care for the whole flashback sequence towards it, but I thought the way it did end was still heartwarming and sincere

  8. I really enjoyed watching the flick and agree with the critical praise it gets in some circles. But I don’t feel that it’s award worthy. Well maybe for Stone, but not Gosling. Did you watch this in theaters or did you get a screener? I find that can make a difference.

  9. Just came back from seeing this and I agree it is overrated and your review perfectly mirrors my sentiments. Moana (or Vaiana as it is called here) shows that musicals can work without it feeling awkward, but here it didn’t always feel as natural.

  10. It still hasn’t opened in my area. Go figure. I’m anxious to see it although I haven’t been as hyped as many people have been. I’m not sold on Gosling as an actor or Stone as top-tier actress. Anxious to see where I land on it.

  11. Nice review! La La Land was fun and engaging, but still felt like it was off with story and pacing. I tried to make a case of how the musical-retro elements were used in my review, but I thought the movie failed to develop Mia’s interest in Classic Hollywood outside of the occasional Ingrid Bergman poster.

  12. Jazz and LA do not have a strong historical theme together, maybe 4th after New Orleans, Chicago then new york. Yes, there was jazz in some Hollywood movies, but in context it was not because of LA. The
    Love of jazz and being in LA seemed forced and an attempt or excuse for the film maker to once again pay tribute and educate his audience on jazz, even while paying homage to LA Teo different themes forced together. And the stars did not need to be big namess it would have been much better with high caliber dancers say from Broadway and better choreography

  13. Thank yoooooou. Someone else who can see the emperor has no clothes. It’s not a bad movie per se but there’s such precious little to it other than nostalgic Old Hollywood mimicry.

  14. I haven’t seen this yet, but it definitely seems like an overrated film. To be honest, it doesn’t even appeal to me, I only plan on seeing it because of it’s reviews.

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  16. I don’t know. I have the songs from this movie literally running through me as we speak. The score, including the songs, is actually great. I just can’t agree with that source you quoted in the slightest. I found this film wholly magical, living up to every bit of its hype, which seems to be its biggest downfall. It doesn’t redefine the musical or anything, but it LOVES them, it loves them (and proves it) as much as the Jazz that moves its characters and us to one of the best movie endings in a long, long time. And, yeah, Stone is superb. Better than Gosling, though I like him here.

  17. I can’t believe this movie still hasn’t opened in the UK, the wait is killing me! I feel like it’s been hyped for so long now though that I’ll be disappointed. I hope that’s not the case, but especially after your post, I’m prepared for it!

  18. Thank you for writing this review! I went in with no expectations even though I know it’s the IT thing right now and… it did nothing for me. Love musical movies my whole life and while La La Land tried, it just missed the mark. Not quite sure what was missing, but something was off. I felt like the opening number was just to say, “Hey! See what we can do!!” for flash and flare. (and the next song when they were getting ready and at the pool party felt really strange.) I understand that the movie was about dreamers and wondering, “What if?” and that itself is a good story, but I almost felt like it didn’t need to be a musical. Felt like It was pretty and stylized for the sake of making great advertisements and trailers. It reminded me of ‘The Artist’ a few years ago. The movie itself was alright, but because of the fact that it was in black and white and silent, it was deemed, “Incredible!” La La Land will sweep at the Academy Awards but on a positive note, maybe it will lead the way for better movie musicals in the future.

    • It reminded me of The Artist too for those exact same reasons. La La Land’s opening musical number was great, and I thought the rest of the movie would flow similarly, but it kind of dropped off after that. I too agree that making it a musical was rather unnecessary. Thanks for stopping by!

  19. Much as I enjoyed the movie I left the cinema feeling very frustrated that the movie wasn’t the classic it was supposed to be. It was just too rambling for me, just too ambitious. Inconsistencies like Mia’s friends disappearing after Act 1 and Mia’s boyfriend before she met Seb disappearing when she leaves him really bugged me. The movie just seemed to go a completely different direction after Act 1.

    I thought things would pick up again when John Legend’s character enters, but instead he’s just kind of there. I was really intrigued to learn more about his past with Seb, but they never did elaborate on that. Very disappointing. The movie really needed a secondary conflict to help spice things up. I also think more could’ve been made about Seb’s financial woes. perhaps featuring his sister in the film more where she tries to keep him on a more grounded path.

    I also thought the ending was INCREDIBLY problematic. When ‘five years later’ popped up on the screen I became very worried about what the ending would be. My fears were warranted. Mia getting married was ridiculous. The marriage is very clearly one sided on the husband’s part as she obviously still has feelings for Seb. It just seemed rather callous for her to condemn her husband to a one sided marriage. Its also quite floored by the ‘I’ll always love you’ exchange by Seb and Mia just minutes before. The ‘how things could’ve been’ montage was amazing though. Very moving.

    I did enjoy La La Land immensely, but it was most definitely not a masterpiece and had many glaring faults. thanks for a brilliant review that doesn’t conform to the majority opinion!

    • Thank you for your kind words! Someone on twitter was arguing for John Legend to get an Oscar nom, and I literally stated what you said…he’s just THERE…he’s a prop…he’s someone they needed who could sing on screen. One of my many qualms haha

  20. I’ve attached a review I recently posted on facebook. I too, felt the movie was lacking, for some similar, and some different reasons. Please read below! 😉

    Ok “hivemind”, *spoiler alert* and *disclaimer* for my movie review of “La La Land” below: some of you will not have seen this movie yet (if so, do not continue reading) and some of you will really not like what I have to say…… however, it must be said!

    I did not really like “La La Land”.

    There. I said it.

    There were definitely some aspects of it I enjoyed: the group dance numbers, the creativity….
    But I could not ignore the often-out of sync audio, and the filter that was quite obviously placed over most of the vocals, making them sound “soft and airy” rather than live, and “real”. It almost felt as though I was listening to a cd, whilst watching a movie that “kind of” had the actors match their lips to the voices….yep…it felt a bit like a bad lip-sync at times. And for whatever reason, the sound editors and/or engineers and/or sound producers, felt it would be a wise decision to remove the inhales and exhales from most of the singing….which also left it feeling very unnatural, and disconnected from the dialogue of the film. There are, however, two instances in which I actually felt like the character was singing in the film itself: once when Mia was singing in the apartment (I could hear her inhale, hurrah!) and again, when she was singing in her audition, describing her aunt’s trip to Paris (but only once the orchestra has built, and she is singing in the highest range of her voice).

    Emma Stone, as usual, was beautiful, and riveting, and gave a lovely performance, and has an equally lovely voice. But Ryan Gosling was a bit lack-lustre IMHO…lacking the usual levels and dynamics in his acting, which unto this point have made him so beloved. And I understand it’s a big leap to expect an actor to learn an instrument, much less be good at it, but it would have been nice if Ryan Gosling’s hands actually matched what I was hearing, and what the piano was actually playing; cause 9 times out of 10, they didn’t…and as a professional pianist, I found it very distracting.

    And finally, the story, though interesting, felt a bit “all over the place”, and a little contrived…it definitely could have used some major editing before going to print.

    So….there you have it. Let the barrage begin! 🙂

  21. Interesting.

    It looks like part of the reason you didn’t like this movie is because it was being compared to by other movies that are classics. In my opinion, that’s wholly unfair to La La Land (and any movie in general) unless the movie is trying to be compared to the other movies. I’ve never seen the movies that you’re talking about, so I can’t tell you for certain if the comparisons are unwarranted, but I always try to take movies by their own merit as a general rule.
    In my opinion, saying La La Land isn’t good because “it’s not like X” is like saying Star Trek isn’t good because it’s not like Star Wars, or saying Pitch Perfect isn’t good because it’s not like The Sound of Music.

    What do you mean by they covered too much? The movie follows the entire romance of Gosling’s and Stone’s characters, and not much else…

    Also, I have no idea what you’re talking about when you say Emma Stone’s and Ryan Gosling’s chemistry are minimal.
    I get when you say you didn’t feel Gosling’s role personally, I totally get the whole personal preference thing,
    but they both work extremely well together, and their scenes together flow extremely effortlessly.

    Finally, you missed the point of the the dreamlike dance sequences: the dreamlike quality of the dance sequences are supposed to contrast with scenes that are nailed down to reality. There’s a big difference of how the scenes are shot when they’re floating around in la la land, and when life is hitting them with reality.

    Anyway, that’s my thoughts on it. Let me know what you think!

    • I can argue that it’s nearly impossible not to compare La La Land to past movies, because it intentionally replicates movies from Singin in the Rain or Sweet Charity or Broadway Melody of 1940. Star Trek vs. Star Wars fall in the same genre, but don’t replicate each other scene for scene. La La Land LITERALLY emulates scenes from previous movies. Which is totally fine and cool, but to argue that it’s unfair to compare is kind of silly.

      Covered too much in the sense that he desperately wanted to make this a musical, while focusing on paying homage to classics, while also paying homage to Los Angeles, while also tying in this love story of two privileged young adults trying to make it in Hollywood.

      Gosling/Stone chemistry opinion is an opinion.

      And I got the dream/reality sequences…there wasn’t confusion, but that doesn’t make them artistically original nor profound, especially when those scenes fully imitate previous films.

      Cheers 🙂

      • Fair enough. I will have to watch these movies that you’re talking about and rewatch La La Land. My frame of reference is definitely limited because I wasn’t really allowed to watch very many movies as a kid.

        The rest of the stuff it looks we’ll have to agree to disagree about, but I can live with that.

  22. I was so looking forward to this movie, I love musicals and love coming out of the theatre feeling uplifted but found myself wishing it would end and then was blindsided by the ending so came out feeling flat. It doesn’t deserve the hype.

  23. Loved your review but its a brave call Courtney. It is clearly over-hyped and it is way short of a masterpiece. As a critic, I squirm at bit when I see what appears to be unilateral praise or condemnation of a film as if all films were on a level playing field. They are not. Some are made expressly to entertain and feel good. Others deliberately provoke and challenge. There is not one magic-bullet review criterion and an objective appaisal needs to de-construct film criteria into at least narrative, emotional impact, cinematography and filmic message. On some criteria, La La Land is right up there, on others not. IMO its a brilliant light entertainment feel-joy film, light on narrative (thats not what musicals are for) great on nostalgia and homage to a former glory, excellent on musical score and filming, and a well-rounded propaganda hug for Hollywood.

  24. Agreed. Great review 🙂 Might have told you this on twitter already but yeah, it’s banking on the fact that it’s a throwback to the romantic ages. It feels fresh but it doesn’t have a whole lot riding on it. I thought it was a sweet story but it wasn’t that great! And I feel like those who say La La Land revives the jazz genre is completely clueless about Whiplash. Ryan Gosling’s character couldn’t have possibly been a better tribute to jazz…like come on! Btw, I just watched and reviewed Moonlight and it’s MILES ahead of its competition, I’m hoping it wins best pic 🙂

    • I feel like with different actors, I may have liked the movie more. I adore everything Ryan Gosling does, but I just wasn’t feeling him in this one. Moonlight winning would be such an accomplishment for independent filmmakers and actors! I’d be so thrilled, but I feel like La La Land will sweep the Oscars, sadly…

      • Yeah I have a feeling too but here’s to the ones who dream. Right? 😉
        But I really hope if La la land wins best pic, then Barry Jenkins wins director. I just honestly don’t see what makes La la land so great…even in the ‘magical’ and ‘dream’ scenes which many rave about, Moonlight did way more with its subtle ‘surreal’/hyper-realized scenes.

  25. I haven’t seen it, and don’t really want to. Give me Astaire and Rogers any day
    Nice to read someone who is not jumping on the bandwagon surrounding this film.
    Thanks for following my blog too. That is much appreciated.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Thanks, Pete! It’s worth seeing, but the overwhelming hype surrounding it is baffling. The whole “THIS MOVIE WAS SO HARD TO GET MADE” makes me want to gag…like, really? It’s an absolute blowjob to Hollywood, so of course it’s going to be praised.

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  27. Amazing blog! I’m glad I found it. I agree about La La not measuring up to the vintage stuff but hey, we have something modern right? Not sure in Gosling singing was a good choice 😉

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