Directed by : Damien Chazelle
Write by : Damien Chazelle
We already knew that the writer/director of Whiplash was probably a genius, so watching the opening sequence of LA LA Land, it was easy to be distracted by suspicions of what Damien Chazelle was up to, rather than focus of the complicated choreography of the opening one shot. These suspicions are heightened when Mia (Emma Stone) and her housemates launch into the second song and dance number and it feels like it’s going to be two hours and eight minutes of a full-on fifties musical tribute. But then things calm down a little and we get a sense of Mia’s struggles to break into the entertainment industry, through a series of brutal auditions. But just when the line between homage and recycling is in danger of being crossed, Ryan Gosling thankfully enters the frame as Jazz Pianist Sebastian.
Does any current actor have any more range than Gosling?
In a five year stretch from 2011 to 2016 he has produced an incredibly wide variety of performances; He did Goofy Funny in The Nice Guys, Slick Funny in Crazy Stupid Love, and Informative Funny with a penchant for breaking the fourth wall in The Big Short. At the other end of the spectrum he can also do the Strong Silent type with a Head Stomping Quiet Guy in Drive & Bad Fighter Quiet Guy in Only in Only God Forgives and he is just a good when he hits the more traditional leading man archetypes; He did A Rebel with Bleached Hair in A Place Beyond the Pines, was a convincing Everyman in The Ides of March and is pulled off Song and Dance Man without looking like a knob in LA LA Land.
But back to the movie….. the likeability of both stars make the dance numbers bearable and we are engaged enough in their arcs to care about how they end up. Gosling and Stone show again they are a great onscreen pairing and their characters connect and clash believably with the ebb and flow of their circumstances. But there was nothing desperate enough about their relationship to pull you all the way in. Chazelle returns to the similar ground he covered in Whiplash. There the main protagonist eschews love for personal greatness, and here, while the ambitions are aimed a little lower, the focus on self still manages to sabotage romance.
The most interesting LA LA Land gets is when one of the characters finds success by diluting their ambition, but it’s played as much for laughs as it is a source of conflict so it’s hard to know what the ultimate point is? Maybe the message is that you need to find some sort of balance without selling out your dreams completely, or maybe there is no message and they just needed some sort of storyline to link the songs.
Despite a strong feeling that this was made for someone else, it wasn’t totally unenjoyable and although it’s a throwback movie that trades in nostalgia, it doesn’t really take itself too seriously. But there’s no shaking the feeling that Chazelle might be playing a trick, showing the industry what he can do, and he will likely be rewarded with the Best Picture Oscar for his efforts - but as a film-goer, I’m more interested in what his next project will be rather than thinking too much about this one.
Not Required Viewing