“How did the audition go?”
Is ‘La La Land’ worthy of the Best Picture award at the Oscars? It’s a heavy favourite to win, that’s for sure. But why is that, exactly? Is it due to the quality of the film itself? Or is it the nostalgic, glossy view of Hollywood it presents? Hollywood loves a good puff piece that promotes its intrinsic values. ‘La La Land’ does just that, showing that dreams do come true in the rolling hills and picture perfect vistas of Hollywood. But does it do more than that? Is it more than just a puff piece? Is it a ‘Best Picture,’ or just Hollywood’s idea of a ‘Best Picture?’
First, I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of musicals. ‘The Sound of Music’ bored me to tears. ‘Grease’ made me ill. I can watch surreal films without questioning the reality behind it. But present me with people bursting into song in the middle of a scene and I just can’t accept it! So kudos to ‘La La Land’ for making that suspension of disbelief a lot easier for me. Right from the beginning, the superlative musical number in the middle of a congested freeway, I accepted that people could burst into song and perfectly choreographed dance in an L.A. heatwave. Even when the musical numbers involve levitation (literally), my suspension of disbelief still strong. That’s thanks to the stunning direction and cinematography, but also to the nuanced performances of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
“We keep running into each other”
Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress. Gosling plays Sebastian, a jazz player who wants to bring back old school jazz music for the masses. Their lives collide (not literally) on the aforementioned freeway. Loathing at first sight evolves into something special, and we follow the two as they attempt to follow their dreams. It’s a familiar story that taps into nostalgia for the old times of cinema. Will they achieve their dreams? Will they stay together? Is it one or the other?
‘La La Land’ works because of the great chemistry between Stone and Gosling. It’s probably Stone’s finest role yet. She can hold a note, that’s for sure. But it’s the little things that add to her performance, like a glance or a glare. Her audition song is her stand-out career moment, as far as I’m concerned. It’s immensely moving. There’s not a foot wrong, or a dud note, from the start of the film to the beginning of the film for Stone. It’s definitely worthy of Oscar for Best Actress. Gosling is great, putting in a more dialogue heavy role than he’s been used to as of late. Even so, his roles don’t need lots of dialogue. His body language says more than enough. As for his singing, however, its less impressive than Stone’s. It’s not bad by any stretch, but you can hear his voice straining to reach notes here and there. Take, for example, ‘A Lovely Night,’ a deut between Mia and Sebastian. She’s the more proficient singer.
“Not much to look at, huh?”
Of course, a musical lives and dies by its musical numbers. The opening number is perhaps the best, unfortunately for the film (why open with the best song?). A one take, luxurious and riotous profusion of colour and sound, it’s simply glorious. And apart from introducing our two main characters, it doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the film. Thinking about it, the musical numbers are few and far between, which is probably why I found them easier to consume. There are jazz interludes, actual songs being performed on a stage, but there are five or six actual musical numbers throughout. It’s a good job that the majority of them are bright, dazzling and catchy. ‘City of Stars’ is a tune that will echo in your head for days after hearing it. ‘A Lovely Night’ is a dream of a duet, light dancing mixed with a typical Hollywood background.
But, as I said before, the musical numbers pale in comparison to the opening one. That’s not disparaging the others, but the opening number is such a wonderful high that nothing else can touch it. Only Mia’s audition song comes close, but that’s more because of the emotion behind it than the spectacle. But, suffice to say, all the musical numbers are bright and colourful enough to put a smile on your face. And that’s what we want from a musical, isn’t it? To make us forget our troubles (especially in these times of Trump and Brexit) and be whisked away into a reality where people sing and dance away their troubles. For much of its runtime, ‘La La Land’ plunges us into its reality and makes us smile at the beauty of it all.
But there’s a notable period that drags in the middle. There’s barely a song in sight, and while Stone and Gosling have great chemistry together, they appear to be doing very little. We’re just following their lives, without any plot developments or intrigue. The mind wanders, time starts to stretch, and the magic of ‘La La Land’ becomes something of an illusion. Mia and Sebastian threaten to become dullards. That’s what musicals are about, isn’t it? Making sure things don’t drag by progressing plots through lyrics. I was tapping my feet, not to any rhythm, but out of boredom. It also shouted to me loud and clear that’s there’s no substance to ‘La La Land.’ It’s a sugary love letter to the Golden Age of cinema, but what else can you say about it? Does it have a striking message, like ‘Arrival?’ No. Does it examine prejudice, like ‘Moonlight?’ No. It’s simply a case of Hollywood glorifying Hollywood.
It’s a shame, really. ‘La La Land’ is not a great film, by any means. It’s a good film, and the best musical I’ve ever seen (but then I dislike ‘The Sound of Music,’ so what do I know?). But the love for ‘La La Land’ is based on, if anything, nostalgia. Nostalgia for the Golden Age of cinema. Nostalgia for an uncomplicated time. Nostalgia for a time when names sold films, not franchises or superheroes. It’s beautiful to look at, but we always view nostalgia through rose tinted glasses. Nostalgia is nothing without an examination of itself. Take ‘T2: Trainspotting.’ Yes, that indulged in nostalgia, but to show how the danger of nostalgia. ‘La La Land’ does nothing of the sort. Best Picture worthy? Not in my eyes. But Hollywood adores a love letter to itself.
VERDICT: 7/10. For a hater of musicals, ‘La La Land’ made me less of a hater. It’s bright, colourful and joyous. But there’s nothing behind the colour and the sound apart from Hollywood glorifying itself yet again.
What did you think of ‘La La Land? Leave your thoughts/comments below!