Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, an ode to 1920’s jazz, is beautifully directed and filmed but disengaging and odd.
Tale as old as time; girl works at a café and wants to be an actress, boy is an out of work musician that wants to open a jazz-club. It’s a story about two people falling in love fully and completely, to the point where it stops them from embarking on their independent ventures. Disregarding the big dance number in the beginning, it invites viewers into a situation most couples have been in – a crossroad that makes or breaks the relationship. Can love conquer all or is life more complicated than that? Is love an epic where the lovers have to be together or is it okay to love someone you’re not with? This realistic crispness sets it aside from the rest of the movies in its category and what ultimately appeals to the sophisticated palate of a film critic (not me, I’m an amateur at best).
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play the characters of Seb and Mia with incredible on-stage interaction and chemistry. There are slight actions made by Gosling that really impressed me with his acting, namely how he hunches over a piano when he plays something he loves as if to protect it in contrast to his body language when he plays something he doesn’t enjoy. Emma Stone is a great actress, her pursuit into more serious roles is interesting, although her comedic charm never seems to fall off her. Her performance was not really Oscar-worthy, her scenes took me back to one of her earlier films The House Bunny. That is not to say she isn’t a great actress that can’t take on more dramatic roles, but I believe she can do better. There are other parts she will play that will deserve her an Oscar more than this one.
The characters felt biographical, there are quotes that screamed internal monologue. At one point, one of the supporting characters asks Seb “How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future.” Looking at Chazelle’s work, one might ask him the same, but is he asking us or himself? Music is about the future yet his films bleed of yearning for music and movies of the past, with movies such as Whiplash and Grand Piano on his résumé.
Mia and Seb use iPhones in one scene and wear vintage dress in another. Can there exist a symbiosis between the past and the future? Why must the old die for the new? When Seb is conflicted about his club succeeding it’s almost as if the director is conflicted about the film he’s made, but as Mia’s character says “People love what other people are passionate about.” As someone that doesn’t like musicals I still enjoyed it, not because I liked it, but because of the passion and drive that transcended through the screen.
There is an argument scene at the halfway mark of the movie that fell incredibly flat with the audience. It was reminiscent of a play I saw a few years ago in an art studio, it was dark and the light was pointed at the two characters facing each other having a normal conversation. This force of normalcy and realism that is being superimposed in the entertainment business today through reality tv-shows (among other things) is claustrophobic and offensive to the history of movies.
Before the ending there is a scene construed as a flurry of questions and answers, Inception meets Casablanca is the only way I can describe it. We’re transported between what could have been and what happened, finally the “what if’s” are drowned in the breath-taking return to reality.
The script is boring, there are parts of the movie where I was picking a popcorn kernel from between my teeth. People around me were restless and a few couples left the fully packed theatre. La La Land is a film made to be reflected upon, its after-taste is better than the actual experience, and that does not bode well. Chazelle is an exemplary young director and screenplay, but he needs to find his voice and resolve his conflicts, and then we are sure to expect great things from him.