Thoughts On: La La Land
Two romantics, an actress and a musician, fall for one another.
Fuck me… this is an astounding film. However, whilst La La Land utterly flawed me, its opening screamed waste-of-money. So, before I praise this film, I must discuss its faults. First and foremost, the opening number sucks ass. Not only is this incredibly insipid in a way only a bad musical can be, but it’s exposed horribly with the dancers being masked by shadow half the time. Moreover, a gimmicky long-shot is the only impressive thing about the opening song which sets a tonally awful hurdle for the rest of the move to get over. And from the opening we follow our female protagonist, Mia, for a while. The suck-assery continues. I won’t delve into details, but this is such an empty sequence with a plethora of terrible side actors crowding the screen. Furthermore, the songs are bland and so is the choreography. Added to this there are a trillion gimmicky classical Hollywood nods in the design of the opening which really imbues the film with cheese and a disingenuous nature. What’s more, the flashy non-derivative direction continues to serve as the back-bone of the movie. What this outlines is this film’s major problem that looms over a large bulk of the narrative: Damien Chazelle as the singular star of the movie. Soon after Mia’s stand alone sequence is over, all critique raised on lighting, character and tone progressively evolves into elements of a cinematic masterclass. However, Damien Chazelle almost always remains the spine of this movie as a musical. With the move toward the third act, this is reversed, but the film stops being such a strict musical and becomes more of a drama – and so Gosling and Stone begin to hold their own.
But, what my critique ultimately is with this point, is that neither Ryan Gosling or Emma Stone are that impressive as singers/dancers. What makes their sequences and numbers shine is the way Chazelle captures them. This is quite disappointing when looking at this film as a musical, as the stars of musicals are usually the performers – the likes of Astair, Garland, Rogers and Minnelli. This is crucial as the performances, the dances, the songs, are the epitome of a musical. When these are mediocre… it’s just disheartening. But, what Chazelle has almost done with La La Land is take the Busby Berkeley approach to the musical. Berkeley used his dancers for their bodies, his direction of them was the spectacle and so the reason to see his movies…
However, this is not La La Land. Whilst Chazelle is the directorial star, he is not a star of the magnitude or type Berkeley was. This leaves his casting in conflict with the script. He needed great actors and dancers, but only really got great actors. So, whilst Gosling and Stone truly shine in the dramatic sequences, truly shine, they just fall flat in the musical elements. What this film needed to do was take the directorial philosophy of Singin’ In The Rain.
Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and, the co-director, Stanley Donen are the stars of this movie. In such, we see the astounding efforts of the three performers put forth in numbers, stunts, dances and songs, all captured perfectly by Donen. Whilst his camera movement is not nearly as technical or impressive as Chazelle’s (given his film was made over 50 years ago, this is understandable), it draws back when the actors need it to and perfectly embellishes their performance with awe-inspiring cinematic language in all the right places. If Chazelle had this relationship with Stone and Gosling, this would be a profoundly better film. Alas, the performances along with the songs themselves are only ok. They act as tonal and atmospheric springboards that enunciate direction to create an immersive, captivating movie – but, one you really can’t pay too close attention to in the dance and song department without being disappointed.
Despite all of this detailed and pretty significant criticism, La La Land absolutely blew me away. The issues discussed only grind on you with the first 15 minutes or so. When the film finds its footing, it hurdles its faults and crescendos into pure excellence of which has been almost unmatched in the last couple of years. I do feel that this won’t be seen as the case for many people, however. Four people (two couples) left the cinema in the screening I was in, two upon realising this was a musical and the others out of boredom (they wouldn’t shut the fuck up – I wish they had left earlier). What this says to me is that this film probably isn’t for everyone – primarily because musicals aren’t for everyone. Those people who hate musicals will then have zero interest in this film. However, for anyone on the fence or who only like one or two musicals, all you need to keep in mind when watching this film is that it is about romance. Romance does not always mean kisses, hugs and other sticky stuff. Romance can describe perspective, meaning you can be a romantic. A romantic is simply someone who is optimistic in a dreamy kind of way. And this is not only who this film is about and for, but this is what musicals try to embody. These films are all about rules being broken and things making sense only in an emotional, tonal sense – not a logical one. This means you could cinema-sin the fuck out of a musical, but, to do so, you’d just be being a dick. The whole point of a musical is that it knows it’s somewhat daft and tries to move on past that for the sake of entertainment. Keeping this in mind, I think that almost anyone who doesn’t completely hate musicals will fall for this film.
My main reason for saying this is that La La Land is all about romance – from its design to its message. This is what elevates it to such heights in my opinion. It not only projects a romantic fantasy in a genuine, sometimes dramaturgically complex, manner, but has you feel for, and see the depth of, a romantic with their head in the clouds. In such, La La Land transcends the simply feel-good and becomes intricately euphoric.
I can say no more without delving into spoilers, so, I’ll leave by urging you to see the film if you already haven’t and asking you what you think if you have…
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