La La Land (2016)

Writer & Director: Damien Chazelle
Cinematographer: Linus Sandgren
Composer: Justin Hurwitz
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Finn Wittrock, J.K. Simmons, Tom Everett Scott.

It seems like just about everyone really really loves this movie. I saw the SNL skit in which Aziz Ansari is taken downtown by cops and is interrogated not because he didn’t like the movie, he did, but because he didn’t like it enough. The film also tied the record for most nominations ever received at the Oscars. It won every single award it was nominated for at the Golden Globes. It made a lot of money at the box office. So imagine my surprise when I finally saw this movie and my reaction was: really?! My boyfriend asked to turn it off a half hour in, so he hated it more than me. While he slept in on Saturday morning I finished it, because I like to punish myself and I don’t like leaving things half done. I’m still not sure if I made the right decision, because I gained absolutely nothing from watching it until the end, but at least if someone asks if I saw it, I can defend my dislike for the movie because I saw it until the very last very cliche end. I mean… my boyfriend woke up before the last ten minutes of the movie and by that point I was able to predict every single thing that would happen, and much to my surprise, the exact length of the end credits. That’s how predictable this movie is.

We’ve all pretty much heard the story by now. Emma Stone (Birdman) plays Mia, a Los Angeles waitress who dreams of being an actress. Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine) plays Sebastian, a pianist in a restaurant who dreams of opening his own jazz club. Even though young, they are both a little jaded, but haven’t given up all hope. They don’t meet cute, instead they meet rude. More than once. Eventually they wear each other down and fall in love. Until they don’t. They compromise their dreams. They put their careers before one another and their relationship. They sizzle in and out, but as an audience we don’t really see their journey, just what they tell us. And it’s a musical. Again, kind of, since for the middle hour of the movie everyone seems to forget this.

The film opens up with a big number (that includes not a single member of the cast) on the Los Angeles freeway in a traffic jam, I know, I know, how very L.A. [I used to live in Cali, I get it.] That is the closest we get to a movie or stage musical number. The rest of the songs are sung (a bit awkwardly, live, and a little out of tune) by either Gosling or Stone. Most of the songs are a little somber, preferring minor chords over major ones, and the numbers are somewhat phoned in, or at least that’s how it read to me. The dancing is passable, but Astaire, Kelly, Rogers, and the like, these two actors are not. It’s all just fine.

Same goes for the costumes. They’re fine, but not amazing, and definitely not what I expect from a lavish movie musical. The one thing that is better than fine is the cinematography, which did win an Oscar deservedly, and the rich saturated tones of the L.A. skyline have never looked dreamier or more beautiful. I mean, it made the smog look pretty!

I hate to be that person, but the movie is a little problematic. The story is a love song to jazz music, and it’s about a guy who wants to save the art form all by himself. That guy is apparently Ryan Gosling. All the other musicians in the movie are black, in the jazz club number all the backup dancers and patrons are black, but it’s the white dude that will save jazz. It’s not really different from the trope of the white person saving the minorities movies we’ve seen time and again. The only person of color in the movie with lines is John Legend, who plays the dude that sold out for money. It’s really not a great message the more you look at it. And while it is California, the movie has not a single Latinx in the entire film. And speaking of Legend, after seeing him perform at the Oscars the other night I have to ask why he wasn’t casted as the lead in the film… He is attractive, charismatic, likable, and a really great singer. He also has already won an Oscar so he has some clout. Couple him with a talented and famous actress and the movie still sells. No?

Speaking of the Oscars, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the brouhaha that occurred. When this film won the best picture award I must admit my heart sank a bit, so I was thrilled to see Moonlight, easily my favorite 2016 movie, get its just ending. La La Land is derivative (ironic that I watched An American in Paris just a couple of weeks ago, which this movie shamefully rips off, along with Casablanca and Midnight in Paris, among others) and not very original. It might please many, but at the risk of sounding a bit like a stinker, it didn’t please me. I thought it was a bit more blah blah land in the end.


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