And so the awards season is here. We all know the sort of films that attract attention. We can’t deny it or make excuses. It’s that time in the film calendar as predictable and the summer blockbusters, the Easter kids films and the autumn horrors. With winter comes awards season, and many of these films are made to win awards, scoop acclaim and make a point while they do it. The industry isn’t stupid, and knows we aren’t, but we ARE stupid if we don’t films like ‘La La Land’ and even ‘Jackie’ or ‘Manchester By The Sea’ come out at this time as sheer coincidence.
Damien Chazelle knows how to tell a story about dreamers, music and aspirations as witnessed in his 2014 surprise hit 'Whiplash', so now it's time to do it again but with a much more sugar coated, colourful backdrop. ‘La La Land’. A film that’s sweeping the awards board and gaining lots of critical acclaim. Does it deserve all of this praise and hype? No. Do I understand why it is getting them? Partly. Does it annoy me? Yes. Review done.
But I’ll touch on a few points for clarity as I’m sure I’m one of few who can see through the dreamy, technically ambitious homage to musicals from the golden-era of cinema to find a film that is rather bloated, narratively disjointed and not exactly breaking new ground with plot or acting talent but still does a fair job at a genre often overlooked.
We spend most of the film – if not all – with Ryan Gosling’s jazz pianist Seb and Emma Stone’s aspiring actress Mia. Both make it clear what their passions are, how different they go about them and how desperate they are to make it big for their own reasons. Thankfully the two work really well together, especially in the more emotive scenes. Stone gets to show a lot more range to her acting and really shines on the screen and has more of a journey than Gosling, who does good, but…again, award winning? No. Tell me why he deserves the awards over Tom Hanks as ‘Sully’ or Mark Whalberg in ‘Deepwater Horizon’.
The pair can sing (Gosling, just) and dance, and do the job. With a small supporting cast who don’t really add much to proceedings, you don’t feel there’s anyone else who matters in this film. And to be fair, nobody else does. This is Mia and Seb’s dream, and sometimes it flows and sometimes it drags.
And a dream is very much like what it is. The technical and visual effects really raise the film to something more that it could have been. One shot takes, seamless edits, slow fades, tight choreography, CGI and green-screen; it’s all here to catapult ordinary scenes into the title of the film – la la land. Dreamy. Escapist. Fantastical. All well and nice, but when reality its and we get to the crux of Mia and Seb’s story, I found that much more engaging that just these dreamy songs and dances. Take away a good hour of the 2hr run-time and you have the story worth following, and the rest is just a family friendly, Technicolor treat to bridge the gaps and remind you what the title means.
From the opening credits to the closing seconds, this is a big homage to the likes of ‘Singing In The Rain’ and even ‘West Side Story’. It’s a golden-era musical. Timeless in how it looks, which is annoying at points because I thought ok this is modern day…nope, it’s the 50s….no, hang on it’s the 80s…not it IS modern day…I guess it transcends a time, which is fair enough when you understand it. A couple of stand-out songs including the simple and catchy ‘City Of Stars’ and ‘Audition’ where Stone really lets loose, the rest are there but nothing special. As are the dance numbers – the opening number just looks like something out of ‘Glee’ and not exactly revolutionary. I mean, it’s well staged, of course, but…meh, it’s a song and dance, that’s it. I’ve seen many more song and dance numbers of the years that I feel are better.
It’s a tad predictable towards the end, but not as bad as everyone goes on about. This has to be one of the most over-hyped films in recent years, but, again, it’s awards season so what do you really expect.
‘La La Land’ is nothing new. It’s just come at a time where there has been clear effort and a lavish technical budget spent on making something SO dreamy and visually pretty that you forget the dozens of musicals out there that have come before it. I doubt this film will go down in history as a masterpiece over the years, because it isn’t and, as I keep saying, it’s nothing new. It just helps reminds us of what has gone before and gives us a break from noisy super-heroes, over-long dramas and gross out comedies.