La La Land is on the top of everyone’s watch list this awards season, as it swept the Golden Globes with a historic 7 wins, and nabbed 14 Oscar nominations; it is also favored to be the winner for best picture. I will make it perfectly apparent that I am not the biggest fan of musicals in general. However I can certainly appreciate them, having just revisited Singin’ in the Rain (1952), a classic musical– and it is classic for a reason. And to be fair, I watched this film alongside someone who is a big fan of musicals, but who largely agrees with my review.
All that being said, I really liked La La Land and would recommend that you see it at some point, either in the theater (which I thought this movie lent itself well to) or when it comes out on Redbox, cable, or streaming services. The reason I recommend seeing it in theaters is that it is a movie about movies; and its love for movies shows onscreen. La La Land is nostalgic for classic film and old Hollywood, which comes through in subtle nods, as well as in the larger feel of the film. This ode to Los Angeles has a very distinct style, from its cinematography and directing down to wardrobe and music. The film, above all else, is visually stunning, with bright colors and the cinematography that really pulls you in. After leaving the film, the visuals and its classic feel stayed with me the most.
La La Land is about the tension between love and ambition between two artists, an actress and jazz musician, a problem I think most people can relate to. It hones in on those moments in time when you’re not sure you’re on the ‘right track,’ and when you question whether you’re cut out for whatever you’re doing. As a graduating senior, I feel this same tension when thinking about starting a job search and pursuing a career. While this theme may seem dismal and pessimistic, the film has a lot of heart and a sense of optimism, and it causes you to leave the theater with a much of the same feeling.
As a musical, I think La La Land does very well. The song and dance numbers are integrated fairly well into the film, which can be one of my largest pet peeves if they’re not done well. The stars of the film, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, are not known for their singing and dancing abilities, but they did a surprisingly good job. Ryan Gosling actually looks like he can play the piano, and their dancing numbers (while a bit stiff at times) are well done. But one thing I cannot say is that these two stars had crackling onscreen chemistry, especially considering the fact that most movie-goers had seen them together in many other films like Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), where I thought they had much more believability; and Gangster Squad (2013), which I confess I haven’t seen. These actors are well-known, which draws people into theaters; overall they are very likeable and easy to watch onscreen, despite the fact neither of them are well-trained as singers or dancers.
In addition, the film gets kind of slow in the middle, as we see the two protagonists working through their personal conflicts. The storyline itself is pretty generic: two artists trying to make it in Los Angeles whose lives are forever intertwined etc. etc. However I don’t think that these flaws take away from the entire film. One of the last sequences of La La Land attempts to answer the inevitable question, ‘what if?’ But it somewhat undermines the struggle between love and ambition that the protagonists were wrestling with during the entire film; it did not need to be laid out in the sequence.
Here is my one bit of advice before you go and see this film (which you definitely should): set your expectations at a reasonable level. This film has garnered more positive reviews, critically as well as from audiences, than any other film this year. It won 7 Golden Globes, and if we’re being real here, it will probably win 90% of its 14 nominations at the Oscars. I went into this movie expecting the best movie I’ve ever seen in my life, and if I’m being honest – yes it was good, even great; but it was not my favorite film. I enjoyed La La Land for what it was, a visually stunning piece with a lot of heart, and an ode to old Hollywood. I had some problems with it, which I’ve done my best to explain; but overall I really enjoyed watching this film as a movie-lover; and it is definitely worth the price of admission.
My personal score: 7/10