It’s pretty strange that we keep running into each other.
Maybe it means something.
I doubt it.
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
I was very excited for Chazelle’s La La Land; I loved his previous film, Whiplash, and I was eager to see what he’d do with the classic musical format. Let’s chalk La La Land up as my biggest disappointment of the year. It isn’t that the story is clichéd, though it is; the tale of young, earnest artists searching for the big dream in Hollywood is an evergreen, when done well. So, where to begin? The film has a really beautiful aesthetic; Chazelle loves colors and the lighting & costumes are well done. But there’s no real heart beneath that superficial prettiness. This isn’t a beautiful movie; it’s just pretty in a Vogue photoshoot kind of way. Whiplash was all passion and emotion, raw and visceral. La La Land is muted, restrained to a fault, reaching for elegance but finding only blandness. The corners have been sandblasted away; there’s not a sharp moment in the entire vanilla pudding avalanche of La La Land. It’s too bad because there’s certainly potential and you can see Chazelle cribbing from all the best, but that’s all it is, at the end of the day, just uninspired borrowing. There are a few good moments. There’s a wonderful long take of a dance number that starts with a song called A Waste of a Lovely Night; the song is classic musical flirtation, the kind of witty duet you used to hear a lot and the number itself is restrained but clever. It’s borrowing from one of my favorite musical numbers of all time, the gorgeous Dancing in the Dark scene from The Band Wagon. And Emma Stone isn’t just good; she’s great. She finds the real heart in her earnestly striving actor. There’s no quibbling with her. She saves an underwritten part (seriously, we never hear a single word of her supposedly brilliant one-woman show and what’s with that sudden tragic aunt story that hasn’t been referenced before in the entire film?) with a performance of such sincerity that I was transfixed. Gosling fares less well. He’s a bit too focused on the cool aesthetic of the character to allow himself to reach the kind of earnestness Stone reveals. He looks great in the costumes and remains a charismatic screen presence, but the performance is distant, ironic almost, totally wrong for this film. He lands some comedic bits, most notably a really wonderful bit where he’s part of a tacky 80s cover band. I really can’t overestimate the degree to which this is a movie saved by Stone’s performance. Well, not saved exactly. I still can’t recommend it. The problems are too severe and I haven’t even delved at all into that extremely problematic twenty minutes that gets tacked on after the movie’s natural end point. But why have three acts when you can have four? Why bring a movie in at a draggy two hours when you can almost reach an interminable two-and-a-half? This movie’s cleaning up the awards; well, nostalgia is a powerful force. But the musicals this movie wants to emulate were never this safe, never this inert. This a movie nostalgic for a genre that has never been about nostalgia. Coming off the raw, visceral intensity of his last movie into this tired, bland musical? Talk about whiplash. 2 stars.
tl;dr – overly nostalgic, mostly inert & restrained to a fault, La La Land is a vastly overrated failure. 2 stars.