La La Land won a record seven Golden Globes and is now the film to beat for the best picture Oscar. The film is immensely popular with an amazing 8.8 rating on IMDB. To admit not liking La La Land is like throwing yourself to the wolves or offering to be stoned to death in the town square. Luckily I am not doing this. I like the film a lot, but I wouldn’t consider it a great film. Although it does reinvent the modern movie musical to a certain extent, it isn’t a great musical. The two romantic leads, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, are fine to look at, and are very good actors, but they really aren’t singers and considering the artifice and homage to old style musicals, you expect them to be able to belt it out. Furthermore there aren’t really that many musical numbers in the movie, and the score, well I cannot hum any of it, a few days later.
Gosling plays Sebastian, a struggling, ambitious and very talented Jazz pianist and Emma Stone is Mia, a talented actress whose career seems to have some momentum, but she is still hoping for her big break. Both are driven and working very hard at their careers. Their first meeting in traffic, in one of those LA moments and isn’t exactly hopeful. But they keep running into each other and eventually find themselves drawn to each other. Gosling and Stone have a natural chemistry and this helps because sometimes as written the romance seems forced.
Stylistically, La La Land soars, and it’s amazing how much leverage can be gathered by a great production design and an impressionistic eye by writer/director Damien Chazelle. Modern Los Angeles looks almost beautiful and mythic, much like it used to be in the Golden Age of Hollywood, this isn’t easy to do, as modern Los Angeles, isn’t so pretty. Chazelle is committed to romanticism and the film is steeped in it. Therefore it isn’t perhaps a surprise that a major complication that brings conflict in the lovelorn couple feels a bit like an unpredicted comet busting up a good time. The plotting and story often feel secondary to emotions and the beautiful look of the film. For example there is a surprising lack of detail in Mia’s career later in the film, which simply asks us to believe something, but we are not sure what.
The film finishes strong, even if the third act’s track may feel a bit unauthentic. When the film relies on Chazelle’s eye and passionate views about romance, the film soars. Although I may think La La Land could be a better a movie, and know it could be a better musical, it perhaps couldn’t be a better romance. A valentine to the very thing, that makes the world go around “Love.” My warm reception, which seems in contrast to the passionate reception that everyone else on the planet seems to feel for it, may just be that I am antic-romantic; or it could be that I prefer substance over style.