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Review – La La Land

FILM REVIEWLA LA LANDWith Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J. K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle. Rated PG-13 for some language. 128 minutes.

Inevitably, there’s an end-of-the-year movie that becomes a critics’ darling, is fast-tracked for the Oscars, and those who dissent are looked upon as curmudgeons. This year’s critic’s darling is LA LA LAND, and it’s being hailed as a tribute to the great musical films of the past. If only it was.

The film opens in one of Los Angeles’s frequent traffic jams and then, for no discernible reason whatsoever, people get out of their cars and engage in a big production number. One could argue that all musicals are contrivances, but to succeed the songs have to flow naturally out of the action whether it’s street gangs dancing in “West Side Story” or cavorting dishes in “Beauty and the Beast.”

The whole point of the traffic jam number was simply to set up a meet-not-so-cute between aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). The bulk of the film consists of their up and down romance as Mia tries to make a go of her acting career and Sebastian pursues a dream of opening a jazz club while wrestling if he’s selling out by rejoining a group headed by his old friend Keith (John Legend).

Part of the problem with the casting is that, while strong performers, neither Stone nor Gosling is able to project the sort of larger-than-life personality that is required in musicals. From Ruby Keeler to Fred Astaire to Gene Kelly to Julie Andrews, the characters they played burst into song and dance because mere dialogue would not let them fully express themselves. The brooding Gosling is ill-equipped for such a role in a musical. (For contrast, see how different Marlon Brando is in most of his films from his musical turn in “Guys and Dolls.”)

Stone might have made the grade, but she’s stuck with a cliché-ridden script and heavy-handed direction. When she and her roommates are dancing in the street waving their skirts, it’s not something that expresses anything beyond the director’s idea that that’s what one does in musicals. Indeed, writer/director Damien Chazelle seems to have watched a lot of musicals, but apparently learned nothing from them.

“La La Land” is a film that tries too hard and is always showing how much it’s straining. When Mia and Sebastian go to the Griffith Observatory for a dance number that has them dancing in the stars, it is intended to be a magical moment. Instead, it comes across as forced and contrived, again because it’s serving no purpose except that it’s supposed to look good. Add in an utterly unmemorable song score (you’ll forget the songs while you’re listening to them), and we’re left with something that’s getting praise as if its good intentions are equal to success. They are not.

The last great musical Hollywood produced was “Chicago,” which had the advantage of being an adaptation of a stage show and, fortunately, was made by people who knew how the genre worked. “La La Land” is a musical for people who don’t know or don’t care and, alas, they’re probably the majority.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released in early 2017. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


About Daniel M. Kimmel

Film critic, author, lecturer.

14 responses »

  1. TheyWereAllBribed

    Thank you for this review. The rest of the press’ fawning feels like a trip through to the twilight zone. This movie is horrible, the emperor indeed has no clothes. Avoid avoid avoid.

    • To each his own.

      I thought it was simply terrific.

    • Mr. Kimmel I do know how the musical genre works and for you to say La La Land is “a musical for people who don’t know or don’t care” about that is simply a very imbecilic statement to make. It doesn’t even mean anything.

      I haven’t liked a musical in years because of the way they direct the musical numbers–by editing and not letting the camera show us, in longer takes, what the performers are doing. Even Chicago doesn’t do that very well. Damien Chazelle gets it. It’s the first musical I’ve seen in the longest time where the editing of the musical numbers doesn’t seem like a hold-over of the “I can’t get MTV music videos out of my head” set.

      I don’t know why you didn’t like it from your review. You say things as fact, much like the president elect, when you back it up with nothing, but in re-reading your review you make statements that may prove you might think you know the musical genre, but in fact need to revisit that thesis. For example, the opening number serves as an overture to the title city, it gives us information about the location and the people living in it. It does spring from the frustration of people in constant traffic jams in nerve wearing heat–in the middle of winter, no less. It’s a wonderful opening.

      Your bio line above says you are a veteran movie critic. Film criticism should be the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work. What you have written is film opinion: a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.

  2. Great movie!!

  3. Dan Kimmel is right on the money. La La Land is being promoted as an updated version of Singing in the Rain and its predecessors from the 1940s and 30s, with the expectation you’ll walk out of the movie feeling happy and bouncy. That is just not the case. The opening was alright, but most of the singing and dancing were not that memorable, and the movie is way too long.

    • I’ll agree with Singing In The Rain, but I’d say it owes more to movies like The Band Wagon than 30s or 40s musicals.

    • Not “Singing in the Rain,” which is a great movie, but “An American In Paris.” A blah story with an over-the-top finale.

    • I agree. I quite liked some parts but the excessive length and the heavy self-consciousness of the direction spoiled what should have been a feather-light souflet. Also, Gosling and Stone hardly seemed to be in love at all.

  4. Great film! The reviewer is free to think otherwise but his post should be more than 50 ways to say “I don’t like it.” This is not serious film criticism. The claim that the music is “unmemorable” is just as ludicrous. Last time I checked it was #2 on Spotify right after Hamilton. But maybe people like to listen to the unmemorable…

  5. You’ve got to be kidding. Gosling and Stone are the real deal.The movie the best in decades. How often can we walk out of a movie humming new songs? Kimmel is the one trying to get noticed and the only way to succeed at that is to write a negative review.

  6. This movie was cheesy.

  7. Totally boring and no chemistry between the main players. Dance sequences were contrived, odd and it would have been a better story without the singing and dancing.

  8. the best and most emotionally affecting moment for me and my wife was when it said,
    THE END!

  9. Pingback: La La Land: anatomy of a backlash – Oncenerd

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