I finally watched La La Land: a charming movie that should have ended 20 minutes before it actually did, but I seem to be echoing the same complaints for almost every movie I have watched recently. Maybe I cherish my time. Maybe I’m just a dolt who’s become too accustomed to the brevity and promptness of modern media. Maybe, as a once-avowed gamer, I would like to pause and resume my films? Maybe David Lynch, who famously refused to include chapter selection screens on his DVDs because films should be watched in one go, should just…lynch me. That was a horrid pun, and I know it. Maybe I’m too used to Netflixing and chilling, with the prospect of sitting in a dark, loud theater no longer driving doing it for me. Are we done analyzing my habits? Good. On with the show!
Wait, before we get on with this review, did anyone really use chapter select screens on DVDs/Blu-Rays? I mean, I may have utilized them once or twice, especially to read the titles of each chapter, but otherwise, I just skipped until I got to the part I wanted. Moving on.
Rather than have every word muttered to a tune (Les Miserables be damned to the pits of hell where it was first conceived), Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play the roles of folks who just like to break out into song from time to time. Yes, there are choreographed set pieces, and some of the songs may initially sound forced, but Emma…goodness gracious that woman can act. Lest I strip Ryan from any credit, his portrayed mastery of the piano is convincing. The fact that he was able to attain this level of confidence on the instrument in four months is certainly an achievement.
The film weaves your classic boy-meets-girl story. But, as is always the case, it’s not the whats I am interested in, but the hows. Damien Chazelle, following up on his Hollywood darling Whiplash, brings to the screen a dreamscape awash with soft glows and sharp primaries. The film feels like a smooth reverie you dream up right before you go to sleep or right after you wake up.
Whiplash was…good, and the cinematic approach to characterization is certainly proven again this time around, but I must admit the following disclaimer: I didn’t exactly enjoy it. Yes, the passion was there and Simmons certainly reminded me of a once brilliant professor, but the movie fell short for me. Fantastic, then, to have La La Land neutralize and improve upon my expectations.
The movie is also an unabashed love story for LA in the vein of Woody Allen’s love for New York in Manhattan. However, watching a movie based on a city you live in has its caveats. For starters, LA is not only about Griffith Park and its Observatory as the movie industry would love you to believe, but I get the sentiment. Also, identifying locales in the movie may break “some” of the immersion when you discover that their upstairs is on one side of the city, and their downstairs is a 40-minute ride through freeway traffic. But I digress and nitpick.
Jazz and I are fuck buddies. Every once in a while I’ll whip out my jazz playlist on Spotify and vibe to it in reverent comfort before letting it go for the next week or so. Gosling’s passion for the genre, however, is underscored by his inspired, if not at times, patronizing, outlook. Yes, Jazz has its roots in dinky New Orleans shacks, but must I really be a trained tenor to enjoy a piece of opera? TL:DR: nope.
I get it, however. Passion can induce anything with an element of divinity, and of that I am appreciative, but I wonder why the same treatment was not granted to the art of acting. Emma plays the role of a struggling actress, herself passionate about her craft. Not once did I hear her express her passion, debate and counter-argue Ryan, or segue into hopelessly romantic views of the art of performance. Both crafts are handled with the same amount of technical reverence, but while Emma’s passion is implied, Ryan’s is underscored and highlighted throughout most of the film.
Also, he gets to introduce her to an American cinema classic, Rebel Without a Cause, that I struggle to believe someone with an Ingrid Bergman wallpaper had never watched. Yet he, on the other hand, is all-knowing in his craft and it is implicit that there is nothing of worth that she can offer him save for encouragement and comfort.
It is important to note that as much as I enjoyed this movie, I felt it piggy-banking off of the whimsical charms of old-school musicals rather than introduce anything new. Yes, the sense of nostalgia is grand, and I must admit that I left the theater yearning for some Dick Van Dyke artistry, but how much credit can an homage really garner? Work with me here.
When we all reveled at The Artist, it wasn’t because it did anything new, but because it beautifully proved that silence is a gift that still resonates in this loud, sound-polluted world we live in. The film turned its attention to the charms and delicate moments between people, and the story was successfully portrayed through intertitles and silent nuances.
La La Land, on the other hand, only sets out to remind us why musicals of yore are so loved and cherished, but follows the Hollywood trend of employing actors first, performers second. You see, Mary Poppins was what it was because Dick danced and Julie sang. Hollywood today just trains actors to perform, hides behind their inexperience, and holds a bold sign that reads: charm.
If you found yourself infatuated with this movie, do yourself a favor and go watch Vincente Minnelli’s An American in Paris. Gene Kelly is indelible in it, and that sequence of Gosling and Stone dancing in the stars that so many have raved about barely holds a candle to it.
But don’t let me stray too far from the intentions of this movie. It is magical, touching, and does a great job at entertaining and enlightening viewers with its love of jazz, Los Angeles, and the magic that happens in our everyday lives.