Hi, I’m Chris Shelton and this is The Critical Picture, movie reviews you can count on. Today we’re looking at La La Land, the musical romantic comedy/drama written and directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
So I’m going to start by saying that this movie did not bowl me over, did not blow me away and did not make me get up and want to dance. There is a lot to admire about this movie, but I honestly don’t believe it deserves even half the kudos and awards it has received, not when compared to the far superior work that was done in 2016 in movies such as Moonlight, Lion, Loving and Hacksaw Ridge. But I’m not going to get into that any further in this review, but instead will just talk about this movie on its own merits.
La La Land is the story of Mia and Sebastian, a struggling actress and a struggling jazz pianist, respectively played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. They meet, fall in love, have a relationship and try to achieve thier dreams of fame and success in their respective fields. I won’t spoil the story if you haven’t seen it, but it’s not anything special or unique. Instead, the thing that is unique about La La Land is the style in which its told. It’s a musical with long, single-take dance sequences on the LA freeway and LA foothills and other locations around Hollywood. The songs aren’t bad, the singing is alright but nothing special and the dancing is inspired but certainly nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s not that the movie is all style and no substance but I will say that without its style, it would not really be worth seeing at all.
This movie was a dream project of Damien Chazelle who wrote it with his classmate, Justin Hurwitz, when they were students at Harvard University. No one wanted to touch it without massive alterations so Chazelle moved on. He wrote and directed the amazing 2014 stunner Whiplash starring JK Simmons and Miles Teller and also wrote the impressive 10 Cloverfield Lane in 2016. With that and some other credits under his belt, he was able to garner enough support to bring La La Land to the big screen.
Clearly this movie hearkens back to the old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers classic dance films but in my opinion, Gosling and Stone aren’t even close to being in the same class of dancers and it shows. Gosling is not a good singer while Stone is competent but nothing special. I’m not saying this to deride their talent because I actually do appreciate how much work they put into this, in the same way that I appreciate the work and logistics that go into films like Grease or The Pirate Movie or Mamma Mia! I’m not even kidding. It is no easy task to put together large scale dance sequences, write good songs and soundtracks and hang it all on a story that allows for comedy, drama and a plot that at least makes some sense. La La Land does succeed at these things and it does so with some very stylish cinematography. It took Chazelle a year to edit this film after they shot it, and his attention to detail clearly shows. But I’m not going to add more ot this than what is already here or get on the fad train of thinking that La La Land is something original and different and amazing simply because it’s not the kind of film that Hollywood has made in a while.
Putting this all together, I’m giving La La Land a rating of Pretty Good and that really is only because the style is so very good even if the substance left me only half full. I’d recommend seeing it once but this movie is no great shakes. Unfortunately, because it’s about the struggles of surviving and thriving in Hollywood, I’m afraid that people who vote for movie awards are unduly biased towards this film and are seeing a lot more in it that what is actually served up. We’ll see how this plays out in the Oscars.
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