WARNING: The following review contains spoilers, I’m telling you now so you don’t pretend to be outraged later.
I’ve been waiting for this day for the last couple of weeks. 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” have 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? We all know there are movies that the cinema elites consider to be outstanding that regular people have never heard of or care about. Remember when The Artist won the best picture at the academy awards five years ago? (That’s right, you don’t). You couldn’t name five people who saw that movie if I gave you three. Some films are made for awards critics, not the general audiences. Despite my biased intro and me wanting to hate everything about this movie, I do see why it’s getting the praise that it is.
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 opens up the film, now I’m not the biggest fan musicals as I stated in my Moana review so many of the music numbers are hit or miss with me. 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.
There are so many little things I liked about this film; I completely understand why film critics love it so much. 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. The film concludes with a 5-year time jump when both Mia and Sebastian have moved on with their lives. A final montage at the end is a big ‘What if’ they could have made their lives together work out and after the bit is over, the movie ends.
What is the best way I could 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. If you don’t like musicals, then what the hell are you doing here? 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. Now I’m not going to give it “best film of the year” nods while Hacksaw Ridge and Hell or High Water are in the running and I believe those are MUCH better films but La La Land is a fun blast from the past and if you can take anything away from it, stop being such prudes about Jazz music.
OFFICIAL RATING: ****
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