La La Land has won 6 Golden Globes and has been nominated for the Oscars in no less than 14 categories. The expectations one goes the cinema with are incredibly high or perhaps incredibly skeptical, but either way most of us have heard of it and most of us want to make up our own minds about it.
That’s not to say that I‘ve entirely made up mine.
La La Land is a film of incredible visual beauty and detail – literally a sight for sore eyes. There’ a visual exuberance to each scene : from the opening dance number on the traffic-packed highway to the subtle way the material folds on Emma Stone’s dresses. There’s also the gorgeously subtle light of the sunset during Ryan Gosling’s song as well as the unearthly scene at the observatory. Linus Sandgren certainly deserves his nomination fro best cinematography, and Damien Chazelle his for best director. The movie is definitely a cinephile’s work and it is packed with allusions to other films- to Casablanca among others
Another highlight is Emma Stone in the role of Mia. She plays a young woman struggling to become an actress and the scenes in which she auditions for different parts are really an excellent way to display her skills. She plays a young woman struggling to become an actress. The scenes in which she auditions for different parts are really an excellent way to display her skills.
There is one slight problem with Emma Stone’s being cast in a musical. Despite the almost intolerable sexiness of her husky speaking voice, she is not a particularly strong singer. Here she is in her best song from the entire show – about her aunt who inspired her to act (who also happened to die young because of her drinking problem).
It is a touching song and Emma Stone’s acting makes the emotions conveyed feelauthentic. But when I listened to it afterwards in the soundtrack it was clear to me that her voice was thin and lacking in strength. When I was watching the film, I was reminded of Liza Minelli’s song in Cabaret in which her friend Elsie also dies young and inspires her to enjoy life.
Just listen to the strength of that voice!
What makes this comparison even more poignant is that when I originally made it I was blissfully unaware that Emma Stone now plays Liza Minelli’s role in the broadway version of Cabaret. Which has been reviewed by Variety as “While Stone is even less of a singer… [than the previous performer] she acts her way out of every tight spot. ”
Cough, cough, cough.
Let’s just say that, much as I admire Emma Stone, I am happy to skip that rendition.
But let’s come back to La La Land. The same criticism with regard to singing quality applies to Ryan Gosling (who plays Sebastian). That’s not to say he’s as bad as Pierce Brosnan was in Mamma Mia, but both he and Emma Stone are only singers in an age where it is deemed indecent to dub that very famous actor/ actress playing in the musical. A few decades ago, no one would have batted an eyelid at having both them dubbed. Here’s a particularly stunning example of dubbing in an all-time favourite musical….
There is some charm in having the original actors sing, I don’t doubt that, but it does impede the strength of the score somewhat. Then there is also the slight problem with the La La Land‘s structure – while the opening of the musical has two quite strong songs (neither of them involves much of the two protagonist however) and dance numbers involving quite a number of people, the rest of the musical becomes a sort of duet and a slightly more dialogue based one at that.
If it comes to the film itself, it has been pitched to the media as a classic boy meets girl story. But it’s not quite that. Mia wants to be an actress and Sebastian wants to own a jazz bar. These dreams both unite them and tear them apart.It’s an “ambitious boy meets ambitious girl story” – and as such it is not merely a love story between the two characters, but also between both of the protagonists and the La La Land of the film’s title, the dreams and aspirations that each of those characters has for their own life.
On the one hand there’s a certain combination of sweetness and nostalgia in this film, which makes me understand exactly why the critics love it. On the other hand, there are certain elements which I feel were not quite brave enough. One could have cast less well-known actors but better singers, one could have made its characters face more or less disappointments in life…. (I will not spoil the film for you, but I will say its ending is not what I expected it to be*). Though is courage not an odd thing to demand from a Hollywood film?
La La Land is a beautiful Hollywood artifact – to be admired for the dazzling beauty of its surface, beguiling us with its charm , but at times it leaves one wondering how much substance there actually is in its glory. It is definitely an enjoyable experience, but I feel the hype surrounding it does it more harm than good. Having said that, I feel somewhat of a hypocrite, because I would not be averse to watching it again.
*spoiler alert Although now that I have read in The Atlantic that Damien Chazelle is incredibly fond of Parapluies de Cherbourg, I think I understand the ending a bit more. Still, I feel that there is little bravery nowadays in saying that a couple does not always end up together. It’s been said before.
The thing that would have required bravery on the director’s part would be to also let his characters not get the careers they so longed for. When Emma Stone’s character says ‘Maybe I ‘m just not good enough’, it would have taken a courageous director show us that not every woman who quits her studies to become a famous actress and not every man who wants to own a jazz club succeeds. Believing in your dream does not always get you the dream. This is what I mean by saying there could be either more or less of a disappointment faced by the film’s characters.
I think I would have preferred either a straightforward romantic comedy or a straightforwardly more realistic approach to life, but the ending of this film is stuck unsatisfying somewhere halfway between dream-fulfillment and heartbreak. Perhaps that’s the whole point of the movie and I just failed to realize it when I was in the cinema?
Image credit: https://twitter.com/lalaland_movie_