La La Land Review — You Can’t Always Get What You Want

So I finally got to seeing the absolute masterpiece of 2016 most people refer to as La La Land and…honestly it didn’t do much for me.

Yeah, I’m disappointed in my opinion too, but despite Damien Chazelle giving it his all in regards to the writing and direction, I really struggled to pay attention during La La Land’s two-hour runtime. It felt really stretched out, and while I was initially sucked in by the movie’s old-school credits and peppy opening number, I found myself kinda bored at everything Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone did on screen afterwards. And yeah, I know the characters have actual names, but fuck me if I can remember what they were. Let’s be honest guys, most actors in Hollywood play themselves, and those two are no Heath Ledger’s Joker when it comes to owning whatever role they’re assigned. Here’s a fun experiment: without looking at Wikipedia, how many of you can remember the names of any of the characters Brad Pitt has played throughout his entire career? I remember Mickey from Snatch and that’s about it.

But that’s a very minor issue compared to everything else this movie has working for and against it. As expected of the director of WhiplashLa La Land is a very colorful movie with great attention to the musical performances and a style that you’re never going to see anywhere else. If you’re one of those die-hard cinephiles who eats up unique cinematography like a little girl who’s been introduced to cheesecake, I can’t think of anything too major to complain about. All the musical numbers are good, and they’re original songs to boot. I can see what people mean when they say that this is one of the best made films of all-time, especially in an age where we’re striving for more and more mediocrity.

Apparently this dance has gotten kind of famous in the weeks since the film’s initial release.

Also similar to Whiplash though, the actual narrative isn’t nearly as compelling to me as people say it should be, but for completely different reasons. After all, Whiplash is a story about a guy trying to be the best through a sort of hate-relationship/competition with his mentor whilst La La Land is about a couple trying to achieve their dreams despite the odds stacked against them. In fact, La La Land shares more similarities (superficial as they may be) to Kimi no Na Wa, the anime critical darling of the year. Both go for more of an emotional experience than a thinking man’s one, preferring to use certain plot points and amazing cinematography and original songs to suck in the viewer’s heart whilst letting their head take a rest. They both also have really long epilogues dedicated to dealing the final blow to those tear ducts that have been worn down by everything else that came before.

That’s not an inherently bad way to tell a story, but as a man who was raised on Pixar movies, I prefer them to have a constant sense of bite all throughout – with some funny jokes thrown in for good measure. Or just belong to the horror genre. All through out the movie, I kept asking myself why I should care about either Gosling or Stone. Yeah their issues are relatable, but they’re also completely indistinguishable from every person in the world. We care about them because they’re real people. Why should I care when fictional people go through the same thing?

Well, the movie never gave me a good answer besides “because the story is about them”. It’s only until the last forty or so minutes of the movie when the dreams that the characters are trying to achieve start to affect their relationship. The majority of the movie before that is just showing the characters either living their lives or building chemistry all throughout the four seasons with anything resembling a real problem mostly being kept in the background. There’s probably a reason why Disney animated movies prefer to do all this stuff in a song or a montage – because there’s a difference in excitement when you’re the one in the relationship and when you’re watching other people do it.

So many pictures of us dancing on Google Image Search

And even when the film gets into that whole conflict regarding “love and reality” that I generally enjoy, it’s only dealt with at a surface level. I know La La Land wasn’t really intended to be Blue Valentine or anything, but just because something isn’t intended to be something doesn’t change what it actually is. I’ve seen arguments that Attack of the Clones is actually a giant metaphor for Bush’s administration policies and how he’s secretly funding foreign armies to expand his power so that he could one day take us over before his term ended. Did Lucas intend for that to happen? I sincerely doubt it. Would that change the fact that he actually did make that statement if you see it that way? No, not in the least.

I couldn’t find anything I really liked about La La Land other than the directing and musical numbers, and two hours is a long time for that to carry me on their own. If you were to ask me what I liked about my favorite music movies, I would praise those choices sure, but I’d also praise something else. La La Land technically has that something else, but too much of the time is spent on building it up rather than actually executing it, as opposed to something like Saturday Night Fever which is dripping in characterization throughout every second of the film. Or Mary Poppins, which is just plain funny. Yeah, La La Land has some fun jokes, but it was more the kind of “okay that was kinda funny, but so what?” humor that characterizes most of today’s Hollywood blockbusters rather than the constant campy kind of humor. So without any of those aspects to act as a crutch, the film’s presentation wears thin. And boy did it wear thin fast.

Good thing these two weren’t sitting next to me in the theater.

I’m sure La La Land’s high-energy presentation and old-school musical style will appeal to many of you, so don’t take this review as any sort of anti-recommendation. Everyone else in the world from Metacritic to my own family seem to hold this film in high-esteem, and if anything, I’m a bit sad that I can’t seem to join in the love. But that’s nothing new in my life, and I shouldn’t let what’s ultimately just a movie break me down, let alone have you guys worry that it will. All I can do is be honest and direct, and La La Land just doesn’t do it for me.

Minor Quips

  • Still unsure if Chicago will hold up to a rewatch and not keen on finding that out.
  • I thought about watching Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight this weekend but decided I need a break from theatrical screenings for films that are probably better experienced on DVD anyways.

3 responses to “La La Land Review — You Can’t Always Get What You Want

  1. Since 2016 is coming to a close soon, besides animated movies, my top 3 favorite movies I’ve seen this year are Train to Busan, The Nice Guys and Captain America: Civil War. I still haven’t seen Batman v Superman because I’m unsure whether I should watch the theatrical cut or extended cut.

    I’m hoping La La Land would be in my top 3 when I get a chance to see it.

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