A Lone Critic of “La La Land”

La La Land has swept the nation. Setting the record for Golden Globe wins and earning a whopping 14 Oscar nominations (tying the record), along with garnering over $200 million at the box office, the film is adored by critics and audience members alike. Yet one audience member stands against the crowd, swims upstream, and spends another day in the shade instead of “Another Day in the Sun.” I was not merely disappointed by La La Land, I was heartbroken by its waste of potential.

I am not a person that enjoys raining on other people’s parades. I do not take pride in having an alternate opinion from the masses to the point where I claim to dislike works of art simply because they are popular. This is a film I not only anticipated for a long time, but one I worked hard to see. Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 1.47.41 PM

After the final drum hit of Whiplash sounded, I immediately sought to follow this newcomer, Damien Chazelle, in whatever endeavor he took on next. A musical love letter to jazz and Hollywood, written and directed by the same master of pacing and subtlety with whom I was freshly enamored, coming next? I was hooked.

Initially slated to star Miles Teller and Emma Watson, La La Land cast the frequently paired Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. With their electric chemistry, rising stocks in the acting world, and the perfect ages for this project, this pairing got me even more excited.

During the film’s limited release, I drove two hours to see it, only to be stuck in traffic and miss the showing. Luckily, an independent theatre forty minutes away was showing it a few weeks later. I went with my entire family, and sat down thirty minutes early for the film, not hoping to love it but rather completely confident that I would love it. The first shot of the movie told me I would not.

The vintage feel of the set design, costuming, and subject matter suggested either a depiction of the inception of jazz or of the “golden age of Hollywood.” When the film kicked off with iPhones and Priuses, I knew there was something wrong. 

Anachronisms are rampant throughout La La Land. They exceed the point of clever nods and homages, making the movie’s direction unfocused and undisciplined as well as overly ambitious without delivering the substance its undertaking promises.

The movie is about the early Hollywood gilded age of the late 1920s, but also derives heavy influence from the height of the 1950s, but also cashes in on the modern trend of 1980s nostalgia, yet also has 1960s-inspired party scenes, but also cites the resurgence of jazz and dance in the 1990s, yet also embodies contemporary styles and themes. A film cannot serve as an homage to everything. Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 1.47.25 PM

Two themes in the movie are that Gosling’s jazz traditionalist character needs to embrace the reality that jazz is about innovation and change, and that Stone’s character needs to realize that the acting world of Hollywood is full of people just like her and not everyone’s dreams can be realized. Yet Gosling opens a jazz club playing the exact same type of music the legends did, and Stone continues doing exactly what she had done throughout the whole movie, but both achieve their dreams.

The story that was promised involved dreamers facing the reality that they are regular people, and some dreams are unattainable. The ending was a cop out.

The scattered surrealism of the movie felt radically out of place. When a movie is trying to be a musical for modern times, the vintage surreal set pieces stick out. This conflicting dichotomy was jarring (along with most of the conflicting themes throughout). The visually stunning sequences would have felt much more appropriate in the film’s stream-of-consciousness dream sequence, an emotional climax that had its punch pulled by the more over-the-top fantasy preceding it.Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 1.47.13 PM

The pacing felt extremely slow, and there was no finesse to the film’s attempted messages. These two qualities make it unrecognizable as Chazelle’s follow-up to Whiplash, which was the opposite.

The director even pretentiously dropped a reference to his previous work, mocking the story of Charlie Parker, a story that served as a parallel for the main plot and the central thesis of Whiplash. So many choices Chazelle made in writing and directing this movie make little sense to me.

Gosling’s singing was poor to mediocre and Stone’s acting was uninspiring. John Legend was the best part of this movie, aside from the fact that his “jazz is about change, and the only way to save it is to move forward” speech that should have been the moral of Gosling’s story was completely ignored in the end. J.K. Simmons would have worked much better as a surprise cameo, as his role in the film was marketed heavily yet almost nonexistent, a tragic misuse of his talent.

La La Land’s issues are the opposite of those of popcorn movies like Suicide Squad, where producer intervention is too controlling. The studio gave Chazelle and his script a big budget and free reign, with no one to keep his work focused or to tell him no.

For the average moviegoer, La La Land might be a pleasant experience, but to anyone interested in or passionate for the times which the movie references, it is juvenile and insulting.

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