By Valerie Complex
Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress living with her three roommates in Los Angeles. She longs to become a Hollywood starlet but works at a coffee shop to make ends meet. During her free time, she goes on auditions in hopes to finally land the part of her dreams.
Then there is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). He’s a pianist living a mundane life, playing Christmas music at a restaurant when he’d rather be a classical jazz musician. After getting fired, he takes odd jobs playing anything in order to make money. The two star-crossed dreamers are brought together by several serendipitous encounters, and after they share a few song and dance numbers together, they acknowledge their mutual passion for the arts — and one another. From there, they begin a love affair filled with music, dance, highs and lows, living above the clouds, and trying not to fall flat on their faces.
Writer and director Damien Chazelle should be given credit for originality, creativity, and imagination. His goal is to get the audience to believe in fairy tales, romance, and love and he knows how to evoke emotions from the audience by making the most of color and space. The few musical numbers in the movie are beautifully shot. The dance number filmed at the Griffith Observatory is just sublime as Mia and Sebastian waltz among the stars. Magic can still exist even if it’s within the farthest reaches of the mind.
Mia and Sebastian’s actions revolve around their life in La La Land. Their idealism gets the better of them until they can’t see the forest for the trees. They encourage one another to achieve success but are both so blinded by what could be, they’re not being realistic. Once Sebastian gains some success in the form of a steady job touring with a band, he’s still unhappy. This rubs off on Mia and their relationship. As reality sets in, the film begins to fall apart. There is an abrupt halt to all the color and fun, and it turns into a soppy soap opera.
The film’s highs are its light special effects and whimsical choreography. The ensemble cast is phenomenal, but Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling? Not so much. They are not singers nor dancers. They look so stiff during the dance numbers, you would think they needed oil applied to their joints for movement.
To be fair, Emma is a cute actress; her acting style is cute, everything with her is always “cute.” Does her range exist anywhere outside this spectrum? Not really. She doesn’t have the fire of Betty Davis, Natalie Wood, or Lana Turner, which makes you wonder why Chazelle is trying to convince the audience she deserves to be elevated to that category?
Meanwhile, Ryan gets the short end of the stick. Most of the time you can’t hear what he is saying, especially when it comes to his singing. Was his singing so terrible that no one thought to raise the volume for the audience could hear him? I will admit, he has slightly more charisma here than Emma, but he isn’t given anything challenging to do.
Besides the bad singing and dancing by the film’s stars, the biggest violation here is the misuse of John Legend’s talents. His short and useless role consists of him rescuing Sebastian from total poverty by offering him a job. Once Sebastian starts working for him, he turns on his magical powers and informs Sebastian there is more to jazz music than just being a traditionalist. We get it. Chazelle has a thing for jazz and a bigger hard-on for white men in the jazz scene. This irks me because it makes me feel his future films may not be very diverse.
However, the critics and the Academy will eat this campiness up because it includes Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who (let’s face it) are Hollywood darlings. Underneath all the glitz and glam is an uninspired, musical fake-out about two wide-eyed WASPs falling in love under unrealistic circumstances.
La La Land is Blah Blah Bland.
Valerie Complex is a freelance writer and professional nerd. As a lover of Japanese animation, and all things film, she is passionate about diversity across all entertainment mediums.