FAUX MUSICAL FOR THE POP CULTURE
La La Land
Review by Ray Schillaci
I know I’ll be vilified by its fans, but La La Land may be the most overhyped and over indulgent film since The Artist. Hollywood fell all over that love letter to itself. And, that narcissistic town cannot help but heap the praise of this most marginal of movie musicals. It’s sad, because todays generation hasn’t a clue as to what a great movie musical is, and writer/director Damien Chazelle proves it.
Now and then, Hollywood, or some filmmakers and studios, tend to subvert themselves when it comes to musicals. They either cast dreadfully wrong in the case of Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren with neither of them being able to carry a tune in 1972’s Man of La Mancha, Marlon Brando as the leaden lead in the 1955 Guys and Dolls or completely miss the boat with a director that hasn’t a clue how to approach a musical, as with Richard Attenborough in 1985’s A Chorus Line. La La Land happens to fail in both categories.
It all starts with a frantic uninspired musical number on an L.A. freeway. The idea is cool, but the execution is terribly sloppy, and we have a chorus of extras that have nothing to do with the story except to set the whole picture up to remind us we’re here to see a musical. It reminded me of a cheesy commercial. I was just waiting for the pitch.
It turns out its a segue to introducing our two ingenues, both self-obsessed struggling artists/dreamers who dismiss each other on the freeway. Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, or Seb as he prefers to be called, pines over traditional jazz and yearns to have his own club. Don’t know if it’s Gosling or just the underwriting of his character, but he comes across paper-thin in the personality department. Gosling was far more entertaining in The Nice Guys.
Stone as Mia is the young starry-eyed actress who plays barista, and subjects herself to degrading auditions whenever possible, all for the sake of her art. If there is a bright spot in this dim venture it’s the pluckiness of Ms. Stone. Although limited in singing and dancing, she still comes across likable. After several chance meetings, these two dreamers finally connect and share their dreams. What should be whimsy comes across staged, uninspired, and forced. But for those who have been yearning for an old fashioned movie musical to address their own dreams, this is enough saccharin to sweeten their hopes.
Through a series of random musical numbers staging their love growing and the struggle of achieving their dreams, we get to witness the ups and downs of real life in L.A. and the entertainment world. Chazelle eventually brings us crashing down to earth and gives us a pat hard knocks lesson of what we can expect out of real life that has nothing to do with his musical fantasies.
It’s a device that was used to far better effect by Herbert Ross in 1981’s Pennies From Heaven. And although the talented actors (Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Christopher Walken) lip-synched the songs (which was by artistic choice), their dancing abilities and the wonderful staging was a joy to behold. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Gosling, Stone and company.
Their efforts, along with the writers and director, deliver us a musical of minimum effort to allow the limits of its stars. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone look good on screen, but their voices hardly do anything to make us want to pay for downloading one of the forgettable tunes provided by Justin Hurwitz. The dancing is skimpy. Nothing one hasn’t seen on a so-so night of Dancing With the Stars.
Chazelle basically gives us the very old adage, “Let’s put on a show!” But, absent are Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Now, some could argue for the two leads that other classic movie musicals have successfully presented marginal singers, Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire. But, the argument would be that they had other talents (dancing) that far outweighed their vocal abilities, and we as an audience easily forgave them for the limitations.
Unfortunately, Gosling, Stone, Chazelle, and Hurwitz bring nothing to the table but memories of what was great about a good movie musical. There are references galore of far better films (i.e. An American in Paris, The Young Girls of Rochefort, Swing Time) with fantasy sequences that are supposed to have us trip the light fantastic. The closest sequence that comes to it is a jaunt within the Griffith Observatory.
Sadly, the film as a whole disappoints time and time again. Especially if you compare it to any classic musical (Singing in the Rain, Top Hat, West Side Story) or truly entertaining musicals of late like Across the Universe or Hairspray! La La Land not only pales in comparison, but should be ashamed for being such an unabashed wannabe. And, so should the entertainment community (or should I say commodity) for delivering such laurels to the mediocrity that pretends to deliver the lyrical equivalent of a pop tune commercial for a musical.
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Release Date: December 9, 2016
Run Time: 128 Minutes