If you’re even moderately interested in film, you can’t have failed to have noticed the incredible amount of hype surrounding La La Land. The musical, praised as a look back to the classical Hollywood era, has been gathering critical acclaim wherever it goes and has been sweeping the board at award shows everywhere – it now has a record for winning all seven of the BAFTAs it was nominated for, amongst other things.
Well, when a movie has been bigged up as much as this one, sitting down to watch it will serve either to impress or disappoint. In this case, it’s the latter. I get that it’s fun and perky, but it is a decidedly average film. It’s a love letter to movies far better than it, and it is a fundamentally underwhelming watch.
La La Land tells the story of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a dedicated jazz musician, both of whom are struggling to make ends meet while pursuing their dreams in modern day Los Angeles. A chance encounter with each other encourages them that they have what it takes, and they inspire each other to chase their hopes and make it big. However, as time goes by and success beckons, they must ask themselves what is more important – a chance for a once-in-a-lifetime romance, or their dreams of the spotlight.
One of the draws to this film (like last month’s Passengers) is the opportunity to see two of the hottest stars in Hollywood in a film together – Gosling and Stone have a decent amount of chemistry, but that’s the best of it. Their characters are thinly drawn, stereotypes that have nothing to them besides the actor’s presence. Similarly, the singing is serviceable and the choreography is minimal, presumably to make up for their limited ability at dancing. (There is a certain irony that many talented singer-dancer-actors were overlooked for a singing dancing film about people being overlooked.)
That this film took the Best Screenplay BAFTA is a source of great mystery to me, because the story is almost non-existent (and frequently quite boring, if we’re brutally honest about it). Now, that isn’t a big issue in itself, as the story of a musical is often in second-place to the songs – the issue is that the songs aren’t very good and are quite forgettable (and I say that as someone who is musically minded). The music is simple, and the lyrics not very memorable, and the only one that will stay with you does so because the film repeats it four times. The movie makes an effort to disguise the minimal quality of the songs with lots of dancing and bright colours, but it doesn’t work.
There are things to like here – director Chazelle has made a film that is cinematographically stunning, and it truly evokes the era as it sets out to do. The opening shot and number is the best part of the film, even if it is not particularly inspired, and it starts the movie on a high from which it only descends, managing the film’s best blurring of its 40s’ traditions and its modern day setting.
La La Land is like a classic musical on the surface, but there is very little to it – the performances are middling, the songs of a low quality and the film just kind of rambles on. Yes, it’s light-hearted fun and it harks back to a different era of film, where these musicals were all the rage. Perhaps I’m being unduly harsh on the film, but the sheer undeserved enthusiasm the film has received ought to be kept in check. I implore you not to be tricked by the tons of five star reviews and the awards film people are throwing at this movie because it talks about how great the world of film is – La La Land is a distinctly average film, destined to be overrated forever.
Director: Ryan Chazelle
Cast: Ryan Gosling (Sebastian Wilder), Emma Stone (Mia Dolan), John Legend (Keith), J.K. Simmons (Bill), Rosemarie DeWitt (Laura Wilder), Callie Hernandez (Tracy)
Running Time: 128 Mins