“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.