La La Land (2017)

Man, the publicity loves that one dance step.
Man, the publicity loves that one dance step.

“Here’s to the fools who dream.”

Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt

In LA, a series of chance encounters bring struggling actress Mia (Stone) and struggling Jazz pianist Seb (Gosling) into a relationship of towering love and passion. He introduces her to jazz and drives her to follow her dreams. She tries to convince him that his dream is in reach, if he can only let of of its trappings, and inadvertently drives him to compromise his artistic integrity by joining a band led by the non-specifically shady Keith (Legend).

The relationship frays, as such relationships are wont to do. They part, he make a heroic gesture but then they part again, because dreams. Five years on, they chance upon one another in Seb’s jazz club, which he has built to her model, but she is married with a child, and after a montage referencing just about every musical ever she leaves with her hubbie and their lives continue.

What’s wrong with it?

John Legend. Jazz killer.
John Legend. Jazz killer.

Okay, this one is a little personal, but… I really dislike Mia and for only one reason: When she fantasises a life with Seb, she has a different child to the one she has in real life. Sure, genetically that makes sense, but no parent worthy of the name would wish for an entirely different child in their perfect fantasy. You wish that they would sleep better or take more of an interest in the stuff you like, or that they didn’t want to watch quite so much PAW Patrol, but not that they would be a different person. I get that the whole thing is a cinematic conceit, but seriously, screw famous Mia, however well she tips her barista.

It’s disappointing to see a film in 2017 which features a white man saving jazz. Most of the jazz musicians we see are black, but this includes Keith, who is leading the charge to sell out. I’d complain about the shortage of other female characters, but the truth is that the film is basically a two-hander.

What’s right with it?

Timeless LA.
Timeless LA.

The film has a beautiful, timeless look, aided by shooting on film in the closest modern equipment can get to your actual Cinemascope, with full-body single take dance routines. As a result, the film’s keystone sequence took two days and eight takes filming in the LA twilight in order to capture the precise look and depth of field to look as if it was shot on a sound set with a green screen.

Gosling and Stone are both great actors with great chemistry, and their less-than-perfect voices lend a raw quality to the songs.

The love story is very sweet, and convincing. I know some people are saddened by the message that love and dreams are incompatible, but the nature of the characters – she’s driven enough to skip work for auditions and risk a fine by pretending to talk on her phone while driving in order to rehearse; he has a tape deck in his muscle car so he can obsessively relisten to the same piece of music and blows his only paying gig by going off on some sort of freeform jazz exploration – kind of makes it inevitable.

How bad is it really?

It's a film in which they see a film and then do things like were in the film, which are filmed. Laception.
It’s a film in which they see a film and then do things like were in the film, which are filmed. Laception.

La La Land is a beautiful film, full of decent songs and great dance routines. It’s got some problems, and it doesn’t walk on water as much as its awards dominance might suggest (a love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood is usually a pretty solid Oscar offering,) but it’s a sweet and engaging musical, and for all its referentiality is significantly different from anything else around at the moment.

Best bit (if such there is)?

I do enjoy the way the characters occasionally look a little startled when their life turns song and dance.
I do enjoy the way the characters occasionally look a little startled when their life turns song and dance.

The leads first dance number, up in the Hollywood Hills, is stunning, not least for the slight imperfections in the dancing which make it stand out from the perfect polish of the movies it is referencing.

What’s up with…?

  • Actually… there’s not much in this film that doesn’t have a clear purpose.


Production values – The film makers sumptuously recreate the look of films of years gone by, and it’s breathtaking how refreshing it is to see a film which uses long takes instead of fast cuts. 3
Dialogue and performances – The dialogue, in all fairness, does occasionally get a little bit up itself, but the actors hold it together and keep it all grounded. 5
Plot and execution – A simple plot is well told, although for my money they drop the ball in the final act with the fantasy child substitution. 7
Randomness – Accept that this is a musical and it’s all good. 1
Waste of potential – So… the race politics are complicated, and probably not intentionally. That’s a shame, because it speaks of a blindness to the racial heritage of the music that the film makers so clearly love. 8

Overall 24%


2 thoughts on “La La Land (2017)”

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