I really wanted La La Land to be good. The trailer literally swept me off my feet, and lying in its hazy afterglow, I thought to myself there was just no way a trailer that good could belie a weak movie. Plus, I really like Ryan Gosling.
In fairness, the movie wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t a waste of money. It was very nice to look at, and the music was entertaining. However, I’m going to skip the positive elements of the review, not because they’re not worth mentioning (they certainly are, especially the use of tracking shots), but because you can read about them anywhere.
Though not terrible, the movie was terribly disappointing.
1- Most obviously, the leads in this musical can’t sing or dance. Many have claimed that the actors’ charisma and the film’s feeling and charm overcome this shortcoming, but I saw the opposite — the juxtaposition between set-up and execution was a distraction every time Gosling opened his mouth to sing. When the choreography got interesting, the stilted moves got blaring. There’s not really much more to say- how can a musical get rave reviews with bad singing and dancing?
2- Instead of having Gosling tell us why jazz is so great, isn’t there a way to… jazz it up? It’s a musical, right? Can’t we see the real thing, rather than hear a lesson about how important the real thing is? Regarding Stone’s part, can’t we get some more acting? I loved the scene where she’s auditioning the phone call, and you start to see her emotional range. Is there a reason we can’t get more of that, take that somewhere, rather than listen to Stone tell us that she really, really loves acting and movies and all that.
3- These two points lead to the movie’s undoing, the thing that drives my disdain to the point of writing it down. La La Land is a bit trite. It extols the virtues of following your dreams, and being uncompromising on the real thing, but it couldn’t seem to be bothered to cast real singers and dancers, or to actually use the elements of a music and theater to portray music and theater. It’s funny to imagine the auditions for this movie, with true struggling talents trying to portray their genuine selves, and being scrapped for flashy stand-ins who lecture us from the screen about taking risks and following dreams.
If it had a different theme — Alexander Hamilton, the Mormons — then yes, I would concede that excellent cinematography and abundant mood outweigh weak singing and dancing. But trite authenticity makes me gag.