‘La La Land’ (2016) Review – No Road But The Jazz Way

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It’s been a while since moviegoers saw a purely original, full-fledged musical hit the big screen, and last year’s critical darling La La Land set out to fill in the void.

La La Land follows the interconnecting lives of the aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and the determined jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) in their hard search for fame and fortune in the place where dreams come true: Hollywood. Though they have differing hopes and dreams, Mia and Seb cross paths and their lives are changed forever.

La La Land scored high critical acclaim from pretty much anyone who paid for the price of admission. Being the pretentious motherfucker that I am often accused of being, it goes without saying that I didn’t like it as much as everyone else, but that doesn’t make La La Land a terrible movie by my standards.  

Dance-Off From The Past

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La La Land was billed as a throwback to the musicals from the ’50s, and this claim was mostly true. In a time when blockbusters are dominated by orgies of computerized special effects, it was both surprising and refreshing to see well choreographed dance numbers done to the tune of uplifting original songs get the praise it deserves. A musical’s visuals may not be as demanding as a superhero movie’s, but it still requires an equal amount of energy and dedication to get them right – all of which La La Land executes perfectly.

Yet as catchy as the songs may be, La La Land’s efforts would’ve meant fuckall if not for its main characters. Credit should be given to both Stone and Gosling for delivering fine performances with what they were given, as they were able to elevate what could have been run-on-the-mill flat characters right out of any generic romance story into grounded, relatable people who you want to find their happy endings.

For movie buffs (aka nitpicky fucksticks with no lives such as myself), La La Land serves as a nostalgic treat that hearkens back to the naive days when movies didn’t acknowledge that people of color actually existed. La La Land is destined to become one of the most memorable modern musicals made, thanks to its heartfelt tributes to a bygone kind of cinema, but not much else.

Jazz Is Love, Jazz Is Life

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La La Land has a bad tendency to lecture its viewers about the importance of art and music instead of getting on with the story. In doing so, the musical aspect (i.e. the most important part) suffers because it’s forced to take the backseat in favor of lessons about how fucking sweet jazz music is. This describes the entire middle act of La La Land, since the musical literally grinds to a halt after the energetic opening act just so that the director can use mouthpieces and strawmen to debate about the importance of traditional, old-school jazz music in today’s modern time period.

Spoiler: Jazz always wins.

It could be argued that the second act of La La Land was meant to deconstruct the whimsical and idealistic nature of old-school musicals, and while this argument does hold water, it doesn’t excuse the movie’s decision to stop being creative and consistent, just to point out the obvious in a monotone voice. The bittersweet and realistic aspects of the Mia’s and Seb’s relationship could’ve been executed in their own musical numbers, but La La Land prefers to just narrate things as is while jazz music plays in the background. The leads do deliver the required emotional weight, but La La Land is the rare musical that would’ve benefited from more singing instead of otherwise.

Thankfully, La La Land gets its musical groove back just in time for one of the best musical finales ever filmed. But given how much of a blast the few musical numbers are, it’s a shame that La La Land prioritized the director’s masturbation to all things jazz over the fucking selling-point of a musical. Audiences know that director Damien Chazelle loves jazz because he never stops talking about the fucking thing.

When compared to the director’s previous musical effort (Whiplash), La La Land comes out as condescending since it spells out its messages of artistic integrity to audiences instead of letting the musical segments speak for themselves. Whiplash worked to near-perfection because of its subtle character study, not through a loud show of musical force – lessons that must have flew over La La Land’s head. Ironically for a musical and a musically inclined director, La La Land suffers from a lack of immersive musical numbers due to an abundance of  monologues.

Sing That Joyful Song

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La La Land hits all of the right notes when it comes to giving audiences what they paid for. It has memorable songs, a likable main cast and the filmmakers’ obvious passion for the project at hand. What it lacks, though, is both staying power and a sense of self-awareness, since La La Land is just a really well-made musical that breaks no new ground for the genre. Due in part to the trying and disheartening events of 2016, La La Land may have gotten a critical pass thanks to its bittersweet yet optimistic interpretation of the hardships of life.

Which is not a bad thing at all.

Without getting too fucking political because Lord knows I already went there, the next few years will be difficult for a lot of people, and movie magic can do its part in reminding people of why hope should not be lost. Yes, I am speaking from my personal experience of living in a glorified fascist-wannabe toilet of a country, so grant me this one fucking unfunny soapbox moment.

It’s far from perfect and somewhat overrated, but La La Land is a musical worth watching and it’s also a good reminder of the pursuit of genuine happiness. And most importantly, La La Land reminds viewers of people’s level best and why common human decency should be an everyday occurrence, not a rarity.


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