Dreams. Cinema. Nostalgia.
La La Land is a whimsical Hollywood fairy tale that sweeps you away into a colourful world of dreams, romance and cinema. I normally don’t start my reviews in such a cheesy way, but my god, La La Land makes you believe again!
More specifically, La La Land is set in modern day Los Angeles and follows an aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and struggling Jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Both characters are itching to make their dreams come true and come together to navigate the cut throat world of the arts while falling wildly in love along the way. But in this unforgivable world of rejection and superficiality can the lovebirds maintain their bond and achieve their goals?
This film is the latest musical we have had in a while that has generated this much Oscar buzz, I mean seriously, 14 nominations?
So what are musicals meant to do? Either lift your spirits (Singing in the Rain), rip your heart to shreds (Les Miserables) or confuse the hell out of you (Rocky Horror Picture Show). La La Land falls into the first category with a bang! The film is quite simply a love letter to classic musicals and cinema. It is a collection of homages to beloved musicals of the past, name one and it will come to mind. West Side Story, Singing in the Rain, An American in Paris and Top Hat to name a few. An example includes the magical scene where Maria and Tony meet for the first time in West Side Story and the world slows down in a trance, La La Land offers its own tribute.
The movie only contains a few memorable songs and musical pieces. “City of Stars” is a haunting and sentimental piece that you would love to hear in the background as you stroll down the street at twilight. The main theme “Mia and Sebastian’s theme” is an uplifting tune that fills your heart with happiness. Sadly the rest of the songs slip out of your mind fast and only serve as filler.
The movie is a colourful, picturesque dream with beautiful visuals and fluid camera work. Similar to Whiplash we get more of the razor fast editing and smooth tracking shots that take you on a roller coaster ride through an artist’s torturous journey to success. Certain scenes are breath-taking such as the famous planetarium scene where Gosling and Stone dance across the stars.
In terms of plot the formula of the struggling actor, musician or any other kind of tortured artist has been done a million times. It’s a story we can always relate to which is probably why Hollywood uses it to death. As a story La La Land is nothing new so probably best not to watch it for originality. It really is as clichéd as you can get. Fortunately it isn’t too stale since Stone and Gosling are able to breathe new life into it with incredibly charming and passionate performances. Both actors excel in their roles as young, hopeful artists chasing their wild dreams. The dance numbers are performed with skill and elegance, they truly make amazing dance partners. Singing however, not so much. Gosling and Stone are not great singers and it shows sadly which kind of brings the musical down. Any singing they do is practically whispered in breathy and husky lines that disguise the fact that there is no power in their voices. (Although Gosling’s singing it “City of Stars” is an exception thanks to his wonderfully deep voice).
Can they act? For sure! Sing? Not really. But hey, movie musicals have a hack for casting famous actors with no singing ability (ahem Pierce Bronson and Russell Crowe).
As magical and uplifting as La La Land is its biggest issue lies in the fact that despite its wonderful throwback to musicals of the past, it will never share their status. The unoriginal storyline, few memorable songs and mediocre singing don’t give the movie its own real identity. Not really a criticism but rather an observation (aren’t they the same thing?) but La La Land is more of a tribute to musicals and cinema rather than a musical that stands on its own. Arguably Singin in the Rain is also a musical about cinema but boasted a large number of brilliant songs and a larger scale of production. La La Land comes nowhere close to this.
La La Land is for the lovers of cinema and believers in dreams. It’s a feast for the eyes and ears that will inspire you to fall in love; be that with musicals, old Hollywood or your future soul mate. It will just make you want to love again. But will it go down in history as a classic musical that stands on its own merits? No, it is a musical that references musicals rather than a musical full stop. If you have a yearning for the Gene Kelly days then this film is a nostalgic trip made just for you. Does the film deserve 14 Oscar nominations? In my opinion, heck no. It is highly overrated in terms of the accolades it deserves.
But hey, we all know how much Hollywood loves movies about movies.
Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to hum “City of Stars” as I glide through the streets of Birmingham. It’s not Hollywood, but damn, this song will take you there.