The industry hype for the new romantic musical La La Land is as strong as a Ford F-350. For the last couple of weeks, the phrase “movie of the year” has been showered all over this film. Multiple Golden Globes and SAG Award nominations have been earned before the film has even opened. But the question remains, is this truly the best film of the year?
La La Land begins with a 5-minute episode of Glee, I wish I was making that up but I’m not, A colorful musical number on the freeways of Los Angeles opens up the film. Fortunately, the music does get better after this point. The story is focused on two struggling artists who happen to cross paths due to a series of unfortunate events. Mia (Emma Stone) is a ‘working actress’ who has spent six years working at a studio lot café while attending auditions with little success. She literally runs into a struggling Piano player named Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who has an unhealthy love for Jazz music. The two get close due to their common interests in the world of entertainment, and it is their successes and failures which drive the story.
Watching the film, I understand why film critics love this movie so much. If you are an up and coming film student or a seasoned film snob, Old-fashioned is probably the best way to describe this film. La La Land is a complete callback to the old style of Classic Hollywood Musicals that we haven’t seen since the 50s. The cinematography is the second best I’ve seen this year next to Neon Demon. The bright colors and vibrant costumes jump off the screen, the color scheme feels like a modern take on remastered Technicolor films seen on Turner Classic Movies. The choreography is a throwback to such classic musicals as Swing Time and Kiss Me Kate in their intimate nature but the dance scenes aren’t peculiarly great. The two biggest dance numbers rely more on the visuals than anything the actors pull off. With that said, the visuals are a good enough distraction not for you to dwell on it. Even the music is old-fashioned and classic as one of the film’s main arcs is that Sebastian is a HUGE jazz fan and is borderline obsessed with the genre. There is a great display of jazz bands and music splattered throughout the film which I liked being a silent fan of Jazz back from my Cowboy Bebop days. I did sympathize with Gosling’s character in not understanding why people hate Jazz so much because this film (and Cowboy Bebop) proves that when done right, it adds so much value to the overall score and atmosphere of your film.
La La Land is essentially a nostalgia trip for people who always complain ‘they don’t make these types of movies anymore’. Well, director Damien Chazelle did and he is poised to score another academy award nomination after getting one for his work in Whiplash two years ago. There is one big problem despite the shower of praise I’m giving this film. The writing isn’t very strong and the story is weak. The problem is the characters aren’t very relatable in terms of their dilemma. The main conflict is that one of them is becoming too successful and the other’s career isn’t taking off the way they want. The big emotional fight happens when Mia is upset that Sebastian reveals his new gig isn’t a part-time deal and she doesn’t get to see him enough. However considering both of these people are in the entertainment industry and know very well that projects are commitments and not jobs, this conflict seems very manufactured and difficult to sympathize their plight.
What is the best way I would recommend this film to people? If you love the ins and outs of filmmaking, you will love this movie. If you are a casual viewer, the film is entertaining enough to justify the price of admission. For someone like me who is a little bit of all the above, I liked everything about the film except the writing and I did feel like it the film dragged on too long at the end. But as much as I wanted to hate this film going in and call out film snobs…I can’t. The movie is a great effort and brings back a style of film Hollywood had long forgotten about. So for that I say, it deserves its praise.
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