Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 2016
Directed by
Damien Chazelle
128 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

La La Land

Synopsis; A musical about a struggling  jazz pianist, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who falls for an aspiring actress. Mia  (Emma Stone), in Los Angeles.

Right from its opening credits with its retro 20th Century Fox Cinemascope logo filling the screen, Damien Chazelle’s film announces its intention to emulate the 1950s style of Hollywood musical made famous by films such as Vincent Minnelli’s An American in Paris (1951) and Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s Singin’ In The Rain (1952). Almost immediately it goes wrong with a big opening production number set on a choked LA freeway that with its calisthenic choreography and chorus of cheery young people looks like it would be better suited to the era of Fame (1980). This is followed in short order by a peppy number in High School Musical style with Mia and her three flat-mates strutting and sashaying in their gaily-coloured party frocks. It is in a style never returned to and that feels like it was wedged into the story just to ensure that we know that this is a musical and, by heck, we're going to have fun with it (the flatmates simply drop out of the story after this).

Right there you have most of the explanation for why La La Land is both entertaining and not a very good musical, certainly not as it seems to think itself to be or the critical enthusiasm for it might lead you to believe.  As a musical it is a pastiche that doesn’t adhere to its aspiration to evoke the classic Hollywood paradigm but instead gives us a mish-mash of things including an ‘80s  quotation in the form of a cheesy cover of Flock of Seagulls’ ‘I Ran’ and a modern day jazzed-up r’n’b number (which actually is truer to the film's heart than any of  the other musical numbers). All of this is offset by a re-iterating solo piano theme song ('City Of Stars') and a few other quieter numbers. These latter are a blessing as a relief from the pumped-up audio that often drowns out the lyrics.

Chazelle’s idea is a good one but there are lots of problems with his execution of it.  For a start the songs are largely characterless and for the most part deadeningly over-produced presumably to compensate for the fact that neither Gosling nor Stone are particularly good singers.  A number late in the film which is supposed to be a rousing paean to rebels and dreamers everywhere doesn’t come off because Stone just isn’t a strong enough vocalist to give it the emotion it needs. Even worse, neither of the two are particularly good dancers.  And the choreography doesn’t help here.  In the scene in which Seb and Mia on a hill overlooking LA, dance out the first steps of their romance one can’t help but imagine what Fred and Ginger or Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse would have made of an opportunity like this.  Another scene set in the same observatory that features in Rebel Without A Cause (1955) which has Seb and Mia floating up to the stars on wires is amateur hour when compared to the 17 minute ballet sequence in An American in Paris. Put simply, the screen magic that the 1950s studio system could conjure up just isn’t here. The final number, a synoptic fantasy sequence, is the only exception, precisely because it has its own character.  Had Chazelle focused on this more intimate scale, instead of trying to make things big, the film as a musical probably would have been a lot better.  With New York, New York (1977) Martin Scorsese made a big-scale musical that looked like it was made in the ‘40s but it was set in the ‘40s and used the technology of the time in order to achieve the right look. Chazelle’s musical is a cut-and-paste job that lacks a unified aesthetic. 

Even if far from being anywhere near as good as the films it emulates, La La Land has some pluses. The romance works thanks to a nicely turned story that takes us through the (bordering on clichéd, particularly Gosling's jazz purist) up-and-downs of young hopefuls who flock to L.A. with stars in their eyes and Stone at least gives a winning performance. This means that we have some substance to carry us through the numbers that don’t work whilst those that do are pleasing enough with the characteristically impassive Gosling doing a fine job of convincing us that he really can play the piano. There’s also a nice cameo from J.K .Simmons who won an Oscar for his performance in Chazelle’s 2014 film, the impressively economical Whiplash. All up however La La Land is a musical for people who don't know musicals.

FYI: The film was a huge crowd-pleaser and, rather incredibly, went on to win six Oscars: Best Actress for Stone and Best Directing for Chazelle as well as Best Cinematography, Best Score. Best Song and Best Production Design.




Want more about this film?

search youtube  search wikipedia  

Want something different?

random vintage best worst