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La La Land - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews — LiveJournal
one person's obsessive addiction to film
La La Land
Directing: B+
Acting: A-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B
Music: A-

Truth be told, La La Land is a tad overrated. But just a tad -- it still has its ample charms, and I would still recommend it highly, but the idea of it being a front runner for Best Picture escapes me in a year that offered the likes of Jackie or Moonlight. Except, of course, for the idea of meaningless cultural blowback against the darkness of what was for many a terrible year, and La La Land offers the promise of nostalgic escape. And nostalgic it is indeed, with writer-director Damien Chazelle (the guy who gave us Whiplash, incidentally the best movie of 2014) giving it look, structure, and often even a sound meant to evoke the musicals of decades past, even though it is sent in the present day. (There's a clever gag involving the default ringtone of the iPhone that probably won't age well.)

The movie begins in a peculiarly promising way: a song and dance number performed by drivers stuck in Los Angeles freeway gridlock. It's a truly impressive set piece, with hundreds of dancers on a rather long stretch of road packed with bumper to bumper vehicles. And it suggests something unusual indeed: a movie that takes all the most awful things about Los Angeles and somehow turns them into something joyful.

And La La Land does indeed do that, for a while. The songs, when they occur -- which is not near often enough -- are giddily infectious. But then they taper off, replaced with jazz or dance interludes that have their own undeniable quality but lack the specific joy of a musical done well. Because when no one is singing, it stops being a musical. It's almost like La La Land can't decide whether or not it indeed is a musical. And I really wanted it to be one. For a while, it is, and for that while it is wonderful. In the end, weirdly, this is a movie that is not quite enough of a good thing. It's certainly too long, at 128 minutes, with all this in mind. If it had more of those fantastic song and dance numbers, those two hours and eight minutes would never drag they way they do after a bit.

Oh, but when it does work -- how well it does! These are the things that still make La La Land worth seeing, not least of which are the ample charms in the performances of both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It turns out, they are both very capable singers. And yet again, I have to say, we don't get to hear them sing enough.

And then there's the affection this movie has for the city of Los Angeles, while still recognizing its pitfalls for those who go there chasing dreams. The story arc in the script, as it pertains to the characterization of L.A., transcends the minor genre disappointments. People love to hate on L.A., and even I don't have a lot of love for it, but I would also say it is unfairly maligned in a lot of ways. Thus, it's nice when someone finds a way to turn it into something magical; it's something even I can appreciate. (It's a wildly different genre, but the 2004 Tom Cruise vehicle Collateral managed to do the same thing.) Emma Stone plays the struggling actress Ryan Gosling's struggling jazz musician falls for. And even their love story subverts longstanding cinema conventions in refreshing ways. Damien Chazelle plays with the idea of destiny, and how things might have been different if a certain different choice had been made.

Back in 1991, Steve Martin penned his own love letter to Los Angeles in L.A. Story by satirizing it -- so brilliantly, in fact, that the movie stands up and remains relevant today. In La La Land, Chazelle strikes a different note, presenting a fantasy version of the city in which its citizens all live in literal harmony. Nothing against Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling, both of whom are genuinely fantastic, but given the vast number of minority background players onscreen in this movie -- a clear attempt at showing a realistic population of that city -- I'd sure like to see a version of this movie with nonwhite leads. That movie would have by definition meant something more. (Note: this is not a complaint that I had to look at Ryan Gosling. I would never complain about that.)

La La Land pretty quickly stops being about Los Angeles and starts being about the highs and lows of this couple's relationship, with Los Angeles as its backdrop. Still, any actor who ever tried to make it in L.A. will relate to a whole lot in this story -- until, of course, the fantasy takes over. But, that's what these movies are here for, an arguably what the breaking out into song and dance is a comment on. This is a movie that depicts the reality of heartache and rejection while also serving as escapism. And then, of course, there is the question of what romantic ideas might be sacrificed in the name of success.

There's a lot to chew on here if you think about it enough, which is to Chezelle's credit; La La Land, it must be noted, is not nearly as simple as it seems. I just wish it would have had the confidence to tie up more of its complexities with the fantastic songs it just doesn't have enough of. They joy and beauty found in the mundane, as expressed in that opening sequence on the freeway, could have been more sustained. In the end it's a bit more melancholy and bittersweet, but at least it still retains some of that beauty -- which means that, overrated or not, this movie still shouldn't be missed.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling's charms fly off the screen in LA LA LAND.

Overall: B+
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