*Sigh* I can’t wait until I get to the point in my career when I get invited to AFI and I can see these movies before anyone else. Then I don’t have to wait to see it at a theater in a different city that has a limited showing… in January. That same theater that takes over 20 minutes to get through a line of 15 people and causes you to miss the supposedly “jaw-dropping opening musical number.” Grrr.
Just like Manchester by the Sea, the positive reaction to this movie was overwhelming. As such, it is impossible to go into the movie without having some expectations (though I keep mine in check as best as possible). So did the movie impress me? With the exception of the screenplay, everything is aces.
As far as musicals go, this has got to be one of the best of recent years. The “animated musical” genre is still going strong (Frozen and Sing being two of the most popular). However, the genre that includes Singin’ in the Rain, The Sound of Music, and The Wizard of Oz has been all but forgotten. More “trendy” movies like Pitch Perfect and Into the Woods could be considered a subgenre of the classic musical, but they don’t come anywhere near the quality of La La Land. Since you most likely know the plot of this movie, I’ll just get to the criticism.
There is not a word for how impressive this direction is. Director/writer Damien Chazelle brings his passion project to life with the detail of a Kubrick film. The tracking shots in this movie rival that of The Revenant, the performances ooze with energy and talent, the sets capture the tone and time period with panache, and the lighting/use of color is scintillating. Not to mention the soundtrack. Oh my gosh, the music in La La Land is amazing! The dance sequences are perfectly choreographed, and the score elevates each frame with ease. If you play an instrument, you’ll probably love this movie. On a presentation level, you could mistake it for the juiciest steak from the most refined restaurant in the richest part of New York City. Sadly, on a story level, it’s got as much substance as a Big Mac.
I like this style and I like these actors, but the script is quite clichéd. This could be from the fact that this genre doesn’t focus on story. Which is fine, but when you don’t care about the script at all, we get Mamma Mia! and Flashdance (forgettable characters and over-the-top scenarios serve as filler to the musical numbers). Thankfully, La La Land has more to offer than those films. However, there are more clichés than I’d like. The “starving artist” the “naive/hopeful new star” the “boss of the protagonist who doesn’t like their creativity,” and the “bubbly upbeat friends of the protagonist.” There are a 1001 different things going on with the two main characters, but I didn’t get very engaged because they didn’t stand out as much as the movie’s style does. I could have accepted this issue, if it weren’t for the climax.
Without spoiling anything, this (mostly linear) story randomly does a few loop de loops, then goes backwards, then skips forwards, and left me utterly disappointed. I really don’t know what is going on when this part of the story was written, but it certainly wasn’t helpful! I spent two hours with these characters only to have some out of left field thing make all that character development seem pointless (no, nobody dies). It also reminded me that almost every supporting character in this movie is either a hindrance or a jerk to the main characters. I’ve never said this before, but it would have been better if the story stayed on its predictable path instead of what actually happens.
Of course I enjoyed this movie, but I do not love it (even though I really wanted to). It is worth seeing just because more movies like this need to be made, but the story needed a rewrite or two. La La Land gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.