(Emma Stone & Ryan Gosling)
La La Land is by no means a bad movie, and if it reinvigorates the musical genre, all strength to it (Review by Patrick Compton - 7/10)
It’s never much fun to be the outsider who doesn’t quite get it, the barren piece of land that isn’t sprinkled with stardust, or the grouch who wonders what all the fuss is about. That, sadly, was part of my reaction to the almost universally praised and beloved La La Land when I walked out of the auditorium at the weekend.
I don’t want to veer to the other extreme. Writer-director Damien Chazelle has made a charming film, no question, skilfully scripted and directed, starring a pair of actors with great chemistry. There’s also a beautifully wrought, wry ending that rounds it all off with a welcome dash of realism. The movie has provoked a lot of hype and made a great deal of money and I would hate to put you off seeing it.
That said, La La Land is no masterpiece, and please don’t try to compare it to Singin’ in the Rain. Apart from anything else, neither of the two leads, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, can sing, the dancing is humdrum and there are very few original songs on offer. Writer/director Damien Chazelle is no Stanley Donen, and Gosling and Stone – whatever their other strengths – are surely not the reincarnations of Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds.
Perhaps the excitement has been caused by the fact that the movie is a musical, a genre much beloved in Hollywood and under threat of death. Or maybe it’s seen as a ray of romantic light in the gathering darkness of Trumpland.
Stony hearts are liable to be melted, however, by Stone’s fine performance. She plays an aspirant actress, Mia, who is forced to work at the coffee shop on the Warner Brother’s lot. She’s gone through the usual number of humiliations in various auditions and the big break seems increasingly remote.
She first meets jazz pianist Sebastian (Gosling) on a gridlocked Los Angeles freeway – and the result is a predictably discordant one. Seb, we later learn, is a jazz purist who wants to open his own club, reinvigorate the musical form and pay homage to his heroes Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. That ambition also looks unlikely to be realised.
The early scenes are some of the movie’s best as the wittily fractious couple meet at Hollywood parties and in one particularly enjoyable moment at a nightclub where JK Simmons, in a witty, self-deprecating cameo, re-enacts his brutish Oscar-winning role in Whiplash (which Chazelle also wrote and directed).
Stone is the more attractive of the two leads. Smart, witty and vulnerable, her huge doe eyes radiate intelligence. She represents the emotional centre of the film while Gosling, remote and sardonic, is altogether less sympathetic.
The couple’s life choices pull them apart (of course). Seb becomes a New Age jazz-rocker (a format he despises) in order to make money. Touring not only takes him away from the love nest, it seems to change him. Mia, meanwhile, is left to flounder in LA.
But then she makes her breakthrough at an audition in one of the movie’s best scenes and – after a big hop in time – we get an emotional climax that judiciously mixes fantasy and reality.
La La Land is by no means a bad movie, and if it reinvigorates the musical genre, all strength to it. But if you approach it as a decent, but by no means overwhelmingly magnificent piece of entertainment, you’re less likely to be disappointed.
La La Land opened at Gateway Nouveau, Gateway, the Pavilion, Suncoast and Watercrest cinemas on January 27. – Patrick Compton