There is a part of me that wanted to enjoy walking into Damien Chazelle’s loving tribute to romantics. There was also a part of me that really wanted to hate it, too. Both halves walked out equally satisfied and disappointed. “La La Land” is brimming with nods to Gene Kelly and the days of MGM musicals. Chazelle clearly did his homework and loves the genre, the problem is that his stars may not be as in love with the subject or style as he wants them to be.
The musical numbers have plenty of spunk, and there is no shortage of bursts of movement. The film is a dazzling array of color and cacophony. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling certainly look pretty, dress well, and move about with a semblance of choreography. It’s tough to watch the pair and compare them to Fred and Ginger, so take all of this with a grain of salt. The second song is a love letter to Hollywood, all wild and satisfying. Chazelle gets credit for keeping things peppy and moving. Costume designer Mary Zophres deserves bonus points for giving style to the characters as they move through Los Angeles.
Chazelle wanted to film ”La La Land” in the traditional style of old Hollywood musicals, so Gosling learned how to play piano for the film. He proves to be quite adept behind the keys. While his dancing is adequate, it is the weakest part of his performance. Stone plays her role as an aspiring actor who constantly, and convincingly, gets interrupted in her auditions, but the actress’s singing was less than stellar. The pair have a visible chemistry that works well on screen. The part of me that wanted to see an old school musical and enjoy himself was moderately disappointed by the delivery.
The story is the stuff Hollywood days gone by: Mia (Stone) and Sebastian (Gosling) are a pair of dreamers who come to Los Angeles chasing their dreams of fame. He’s a jazz pianist with dreams of opening his own club that will only feature “the purest jazz,” while she’s a barista/actor/playwright looking to carve out a career. Boy meets girl, the two end up at the Griffith Observatory (a seriously gorgeous view; if you’ve never been, go now) and dance in a flow of primary colors. Chazelle loves jazz, you can hear it throughout the film and feel it in the way it is shot and acted. There is no shortage of good and great music running through “La La Land.” The fact that it was shot over an eight week period and turned out to be a cohesive, visually pleasing film is a testament to Chazelle’s talent as a filmmaker. After seeing his work in the powerful “Whiplash” and now experiencing “La La Land,” the most compelling reason to see the aforementioned work is witnessing his growth as a director and wondering what he will do next.