Review of "La La Land (2016) (DVD)"

published 14/06/2017 | afy9mab
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All of my DVD reviews are film only, so do not include pricing information. If you have time, please read and rate my Batman V Superman review.
Good
Pro Gorgeous cinematography and a couple of nice mucial numbers.
Cons A lack of originality, miscast leads, forgettable songs, the ending.
exceptional
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"I Didn't Go Ga Ga For La La Land"

FILM ONLY REVIEW

Mia is an aspiring actress working as a waitress in a film studio coffee shop, while Sebastian is a jazz musician scraping a living playing in bars and at cocktail parties. Circumstances keep bringing them together and they finally fall in love. But as success finds them, they are faced with decisions that threaten to pull them apart.

I went into this film with high expectations. The trailer looked great. I loved director Damien Chazelle’s last Oscar-winning flick, “Whiplash”. I had read nothing but positive reviews and I love Emma Stone and could gaze at Ryan Gosling for hours (even if I’m unconvinced of his acting prowess). It starts well enough, with the promise of a production shot in CinemaScope (the format used for many musicals in the 1940s and 50s) and a colourful, energetic song-and-dance number set on an LA freeway, that introduces us to a city full of young wannabes. But this is just a chorus line of people we never see again and the film never quite scales the heights of the joyful ensemble number afterwards. That being said, the movie looks great. The director employs saturated primary colours at the beginning of the film that reflect the leads’ naivety and enthusiasm. But as the production progresses, the colours become more faded, as the characters become either more sophisticated or jaded, depending on your point of view. The cinematography is lush. LA is presented in a seemingly endless summer fading into Technicolor golden hours every night, which act as a beautiful and almost unreal backdrop to the action. The camerawork is elegant and expansive, with cameras that swoop and swirl as though they too are dancing.

Although I loved the energy of the opening number and the crispness of the choreography in the “What a Lovely Night” tap routine, I must confess I was underwhelmed by the musical numbers. I found it easy to accept the slightly ramshackle approach of the first musical routine because it involved so many people, was shot on a real LA freeway (which must have meant the crew was pressed for time) and was done in a series of very long takes. But in general, I like my musical numbers to appear slick and professional, which is where this film fell down. Neither of the leads is trained in musical theatre and it shows. The choreography is simple, but all too often sloppily executed. In addition, the singing feels underpowered. The only performer who really (perhaps unsurprisingly) sells any of the songs is Grammy-winner John Legend. Meanwhile everyone else seems to give in to the hipsterish urge to not be seen to be trying too hard. While it gives a certain casual air to the production, it sits at odds with the old-fashioned musicals Chazelle is trying to pay homage to. Ironically, it is when the director is trying his hardest to mimic those old movies that film is at its least convincing. Fantasy sequences that see the leads dancing through a cardboard version of Paris and waltzing through the stars feel superficial because the performers can’t emulate the like of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The big group routines are somewhat more successful, because there are other singers and dancers to distract from the obvious limitations of the leads.

I think my main problem with the musical numbers was that they don’t feel as though they have been earned. In the best musicals, songs only ever appear when conventional dialogue will no longer suffice to express what characters are feeling. They represent an outpouring of emotion or reveal the singer’s deepest desires or most closely guarded secrets. But here the scenes don’t build to an emotional crescendo or any kind of crisis before the protagonists burst into song. They just happen because the writer-director thinks it’s time for a musical number. The lyrics tend towards flippancy (one song is all about the main characters denying how they feel about each other) or deal in abstract concepts. As a result, they ring hollow.

I had a few problems with the storytelling. I thought the plotting was predictable and the characters felt too familiar. There was never any point in the proceedings when I was convinced by Mia and Sebastian’s relationship, despite the chemistry between the leads. There was too little character development for my taste – I thought the characters felt too much like Hollywood stereotypes. The heightened acting style felt false to me because it was used inconsistently. I found the tone uneven. The combination of snark and sentiment didn’t really work for me. The film also felt overlong to me. I didn’t really think the film had enough plot or pizazz to warrant the hundred-and-twenty-eight-minute running-time.

I was disappointed by Chazelle’s screenplay because it is based on one of those irritating movie relationships, in which neither partner tells the other how they feel. Consequently, decisions are based on assumptions rather than fact, so nobody ends up happy. I found the succession of snarky meet-cutes annoying rather than spirited. It’s also a very unequal relationship. Sebastian treats Mia like an idiot most of the time (especially when he’s holding forth about jazz), constantly talking down to her and putting her needs a distant second to his own. Meanwhile, she hangs on his every word, gazing adoringly at him. It’s bordering on emotionally abusive. There was no point during the film when I believed Mia would stay with him because he was such a narcissist. We’re also supposed to feel sorry for Sebastian because he’s a jazz purist who ends up playing in an increasingly successful fusion band. If anything, I found his music snobbery just another reason to dislike him. It is especially galling when he tells a black musician that he should be going back to his roots instead of playing progressive jazz. I know that a lot of people adored the ending of the film, but I thought it was a case of Chazelle trying to have his cake and eat it. I felt it added a sour note, rather than being bittersweet.

The characterisation is rote. Mia is written as a talented ingenue (very much in the manic pixie dream-girl mould) struggling to get her big break. She’s likeable enough, but it’s a character we’ve seen a hundred times before. I heartily disliked Sebastian. I know his jazz obsession is meant to make him appear passionate and intense, but I thought he came across as a condescending, mansplaining music snob. He treats his girlfriend like crap both before and during their relationship, always assuming what she wants instead of asking. His former friend and fellow jazz musician Keith is written as the enemy of jazz purity, making him the de facto villain, even though his music brings joy to many. The other characters drift in and out of scenes without ever leaving their mark. The dialogue is a weird mix of spiky and clichéd.

I really like Emma Stone, who plays Mia. She seems warm and approachable and above all, relatable. She also does a nice line in vulnerability. However, I think she won an Oscar for this role because so many actors saw themselves in her character and voted accordingly. That’s not to say it’s a bad performance, it just isn’t as amazing as all of the gongs would have you believe. I was also disappointed in her singing because I know she has appeared on Broadway, but the only time she puts any power behind the songs is in the second half of “(Audition) The Fools Who Dream”. I hated Ryan Gosling as Sebastian. He comes across as a smug, self-absorbed waste of space. He might have successfully learned to play jazz piano for the role, but I wish to god he’d spent a bit more time on learning to sing. His style is annoyingly indistinct and it felt like he was singing under his breath most of the time. That being said, he and Stone share some already proven chemistry. Singer John Legend makes a decent fist of his role as jazz musician Keith. Also look out for Oscar-winner JK Simmons as bar owner Bill and Rosemarie DeWitt as Sebastian’s cynical sister, Laura.

The original music by Justin Hurwitz has a jazzy, old-fashioned sound to it. The tracks frequently borrow from one another in terms of melody and style, which gives the production an overarching style but often feels lazy. There are plenty of melancholy piano melodies, 50s-style strings and brass and lots of twinkling xylophones, which I found a bit naff. Sadly, the movie lacks any truly memorable songs. I still can’t believe that “City of Stars” won the Oscar for best song. It’s a dirge-like little number with uninspired lyrics that appears in not one but three different versions throughout the film. In spite of hearing it incessantly ever since seeing the movie I STILL can’t remember anything other than the first two lines of it. The jaunty opening number “Another Day of Sun” is cannibalised in part by later motifs, as is the group number “Someone in the Crowd”. Sarcastic duet “A Lovely Night” is undone by underpowered singing, while “(Audition) The Fools Who Dream” only really comes alive in the second half. For a film marketed as a musical, I thought the music was forgettable.

I really wanted to love “La La Land”, but I thought it was mediocre. I liked the cinematography more than the superficial style of direction. I don’t think the writing was as original or daring as the writer thought it was. I liked Emma Stone but hated Ryan Gosling and wanted a heck of a lot more oomph from the musical numbers. I thought it was a bit like Sebastian, pretty but (for me at least) hard to love. I think I’m probably in a minority in my opinion of this, so if you’re a die-hard romantic, you’ll no doubt love it.

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Comments on this review

  • mousy86 published 02/07/2017
    great write-up x
  • Classicc published 23/06/2017
    Excellent
  • SirJoseph published 17/06/2017
    Yeah.. I'd rate it lower
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Product Information : La La Land (2016) (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Sub Sub Genre: Musicals & Other Music Films

DVD Region: DVD

Classification: 12 years and over

Production Year: 2016

Actor(s): Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock, Sonoya Mizuno

Sound: Dolby Digital

Director(s): Damien Chazelle

EAN: 5055761909630

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Listed on Ciao since: 14/06/2017