Film: La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash 2014)
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling (The Nice Guys and The Big Short both 2016), Emma Stone (Birdman 2014).
Plot: The course of true love story does not run smoothly for aspiring actress Mia (Stone) and frustrated jazz pianist Sebastian (Gosling).
What I thought of it: La La Land has already garnered seven Golden Globe awards, including wins for its director and stars. It has collected an astonishing 11 BAFTA nominations. Critics (with a very few exceptions) have been showering it with praise and five-star reviews.
Does it live up to all of this praise and hype? No. It is a perfectly pleasant musical comedy, but it simply does not have the wow factor that we have every right to expect from any film that has attracted so much acclaim.
Director Chazelle has been credited with single-handedly reviving the Hollywood musical. That is way over the top, even though La La Land very deliberately taps-in to the genre’s rich history.
It is (at first) about young people trying to get their break into the world of performing arts; so think Fame! It is a Hollywood musical about Hollywood; think Singing’ in the Rain. Stone prepared for her role by studying the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And there are very obvious parallels with the French musical film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
Those are all big tap shoes to fill, and it’s not surprising that La La Land does not manage it. Gosling and Stone can hold a tune adequately, but they are not very good dancers.
The songs are weak; the test of a musical, surely, is whether you leave the show humming or whistling the tunes you’ve been listening to for the last two hours. And in its final third, when the love story turns sour, the film almost ceases to be a musical; the music stops, almost literally.
That said, I thought it actually finishes strongly, although the signalled nod to Casablanca in Gosling and Stone’s last encounter once again only invites comparison to La La Land‘s detriment. There’s been much written about the on-screen chemistry between Gosling and Stone, but Bogart and Bergman they ain’t.
So, why has it been so extravagantly praised by critics, and so rewarded by awards judges? Could it be that the film’s simple charms (and it does have them) struck an unusually receptive chord after what was for many liberal-minded people a depressing year?
If so, while La La Land may not herald the revival of the musical, it may encourage more simple feel-good movies in 2017.
Retired Bloke Rating: a perfectly inoffensive way to while away a winter afternoon. ***