A modern musical that is neither innovative nor a musical, La La Land is not the triumph so many people make it out to be.
The follow-up to his directorial debut Whiplash, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land tells the tale of a jazz pianist, played by Ryan Gosling, and an aspiring actress, played by Emma Stone, falling in love in the city of stars. However, after repeated failures in their path to following their dreams, their relationship is put to the test as they are each forced to decide whether to continue shooting for the stars or settle and begin anew.
La La Land begins as a musical but then continues as a cliché. From its opening number, it is clear that Chazelle is himself shooting for the stars in trying to create a grand musical spectacular. However, after a string of three set-pieces, the film falls into a narrative lull whereby every trope of a struggling actress trying to make it big is played out, uncreatively and uneventfully. After an initial strong sprint, it’s as if the film dies out and gives up trying to be a musical. The set-pieces should have been more evenly spread throughout the film, used only for critical events that deserve attention, as opposed to the first musical number which contributes nothing to the narrative and is only used to establish to the audience that the film they’re watching is a musical, or at least that it’s pretending to be.
Moreover, the film fails to utilize the musical genre to any significant capacity. Obviously, musicals aren’t as mainstream as they once to used to be, and as such, La La Land had a great opportunity to use the genre to comment on the societal differences between the present and the golden age of musicals, ideally through subversion in the narrative. Rather, the film uses the genre merely as a form for a cliché plot. Perhaps Chazelle sought only to create a musical plain and simple, but considering the sloppiness of his attempt, it comes off as a pale imitation rather than a genuine creation.
Just as in Crazy, Stupid, Love, the relationship between Gosling and Stone is the reason why true love is still a thing. Their chemistry is goals AF, GOAT, OTP, basically any modern slang that describes two people as perf and fect. The two major set-pieces about their relationship are by far the best parts of the film. However, there is an uneven distribution of interest when they’re separate. Gosling is given a much more intriguing individual storyline, participating in a tribute band and in a hybrid electro-jazz band in his path to glory, whereas Stone is mostly seen working as a barista or failing at auditions, both of which are dull in comparison.
With all the hype surrounding La La Land, it’s difficult to believe it is anything but a masterpiece. However, La La Land is 2016’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Wanting so desperately to have a Star Wars to call my own, it took me a while to realize the film is merely a poorly directed piece of nostalgia porn. Likewise, La La Land fails to meet the high expectations I had for it. It isn’t trash, but it is by no means the grand musical spectacular it appeared to be. It’s fun, and perhaps that will be enough for some people, but at the end of the 2 hours and 8 minutes, there was much left to be desired. If nothing else, the final set-piece, although not a traditional musical song and dance number, is perfection; it is a masterfully directed ending that is worth everyone’s attention.