By Aaron Good (United Kingdom)
Where to start with a film that broke / matched numerous awards records? I think controversially would be best. I do not think this movie is as good as people like to believe it is. Don’t get me wrong, it is an unquestionably great movie and an epic love letter to the golden age of Hollywood, but there are a few flaws that almost break it for me, at least as an awards contender. However! I shall get to those later, first I shall concentrate on what the movie did superbly.
La La Land is bloody gorgeous, from the cinematography, to the costume design, everything is so beautifully created in a palette of primary colours borrowed from musicals of the 1960s that it firmly establishes itself as an undeniable modern classic, and you can’t help but admire it’s optimism in the face of all the drab, washed out, frankly boring looking modern blockbusters. Oh, and it’s minutes long, unbroken shots, ESPECIALLY during song and dance numbers. Need I say more?
The main cast, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have brilliant chemistry, and in reading up on the process of making the movie and finding out they brought some of their past experiences into portraying a beat down jazz pianist, and a struggling actress, it totally shows on screen. There are several moments of raw emotion that wrench at your heart and are truly remarkable, and I firmly believe would not have had near the impact they did had they been portrayed by anybody else.
The editing, direction, and choreography. Really, I can’t say enough, or too little about this. I’ll just leave it here, and if you go to see it, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Just. Wow (the opening dance number on an LA highway 100ft in the air will clue you in).
The instrumentals. The score is fantastic and really rousing, it makes you want to get up and dance. However, the lyrical songs, those sang by the main cast, kind of fall flat, for one, easily avoidable reason. The actors are not allowed to sing to the full range of their abilities. They always sing very softly, even when the story demands they belt it. Drifting dangerously towards spoilers, there is a confrontational moment between two characters, one criticising the other in song, and the music builds, and builds towards the inevitable belting defence of the other… And then they just start singing very quietly, almost defeated. From my point of view, that moment needed punch, it needed to feel like a defence, but it didn’t. They felt oppressed, and the worst part is knowing that it was an intentional choice, as later in the movie the same character absolutely belts a song in the exact way they should have done previously. I may just not be a connoisseur of musical theatre, but it felt like a missed opportunity.
My other qualm is the script, not the story, but the script. There are moments when it feels like it needs more. More of what? Just more. The movie is split into four sections; Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, and between one of those jumps, a lot happens that I think frankly, we should have seen at least glimpses of. That is the most egregious example I can give without spoiling the movie for you.
A final round-up of the film… I enjoyed it. It certainly had its flaws, some of which might make me think twice about seeing it again, but the movie is unquestionably beautifully crafted by somebody that clearly loved every second of what they were doing. I would advise seeing it in the cinema, as it is definitely intended for such viewing, and I’m sure the filmmakers would agree. It is a breathless cinematic experience. I think if you are a fan of golden age musicals, you will find much more to love in this than I did. So, in the end, my criticism largely comes down to it not being made for me. It’s made for cinephiles, and generations past that miss the way movies used to be.