Sure, it got nominated for countless awards, was showered with five-star reviews, and ticket sales went out the roof. But did La La Land really deserve the throng of adoration it received? The movie musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and directed by Damien Chazelle is very overrated. In fact, it would have been much better if it hadn't been a musical.
La La Land tells the story of two star-crossed lovers: an aspiring actress, Mia, and a poor jazz pianist, Sebastian, as they navigate Los Angeles trying to improve their careers, and fall for each other in the process. The opening scene is lively and vibrant, with a catchy song and energetic choreography, but the rest of the film leaves much to be desired, despite its untraditional ending.
Many of La La Land’s songs feel forced and unnecessary, and don't aid the already weak plot, which, coupled with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s mediocre-at-best singing and dancing skills, can make viewers walk out of the movie theater feeling rather unsatisfied. When the female lead, Mia, gets home after a hard day at work, her three roommates convince her to attend a party with them. At first, Mia is very reluctant to go, but as the notes of a song begin to play, she and her roommates suddenly become all smiles and giggles, filling the screen with frankly ridiculous pouting and eye rolling. Many other instances like this occur during the film, strongly contradicting how “non-cliché” La La Land was advertised to be.
The frequency of the songs is also problematic, especially near the beginning of the movie. Because songs do not happen often enough, it is far too easy to forget that La La Land is a musical at all. When a song arrived, it tends to feel awkward and unnecessary, ruining a perfectly good scene with a melody that often falls flat. Sporadically placed, jerkily executed choreography only serves to make the two main characters look like they are having seizures, not dancing their hearts out in the sparkling city of Los Angeles. When Mia and Sebastian walk to the top of the canyon, they have a great moment of playful bickering, and Sebastian jokes that the beautiful sunset is wasted on the two of them because they aren't interested in each other. Both Stone and Gosling are very talented actors and create a palpable connection on screen—we would much rather see their witty dialogue continue instead of a relatively uninspiring performance of the song A Lovely Night.
Another controversial aspect of La La Land is actually Ryan Gosling’s character himself, Sebastian, a white jazz player with dreams of saving traditional jazz from certain death, and of opening his own club one day. However, as many members of the jazz community have already pointed out, the music Sebastian plays does not actually sound much like jazz. This causes a conflict (with racial overtones) between the young man and one of his old bandmates, Keith, a black man with more liberal views about jazz, for whom Sebastian ends up working, because Keith wants to widen the definition of jazz, and its audience. Many people in jazz agree with the latter standpoint, so why does Chazelle push Sebastian against the tide of jazz innovators if he doesn't exactly have the physique du role?
This being said, La La Land is not an inherently terrible movie. The idea of the film is a good one. Scenery wise, everything from the colors of the actors’ clothing to the many beautiful sunsets is very well chosen. Shots and angles vary, and match the atmosphere of each scene, and the lighting is usually rich and vibrant, following the happy, sunny overall theme of the movie. Unfortunately, those aspects, along with the songs, are not enough to cover the obvious plot holes and character and choreography imperfections. La La Land strikes us as the opposite of a fairy tale movie, with its non happily-ever-after ending, showing us that real life isn't always perfect. Precisely for this reason, filling it with exaggerated dancing and cheesy songs feels unnecessary and very counterintuitive—it takes away from the atmosphere of reality that should have been there instead.
So, if you still want to go see La La Land, lower your expectations, and brace yourself for wonderfully subpar vocals and choreography. Then, wait for the improbable ending that should have swept you off your feet, to leave you standing there, wondering why on earth you bought a ticket.
La La Land (2016)
Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling.