La La Land Review: “It’s Blah Blah Bland”

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.

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View Comments (28)
  • This review is way too harsh.

    First of all, John Legend is a singer not an actor. He basically plays a version of himself in the film, which makes sense (considering he’s not an actor), so “misuse of his talent”?

    I get this movie isn’t very diverse. It’s about a white couple in LA and it’s focus is them. There is something to be said for making more romances like this with non-white leads. However, that doesn’t make this movie bad. All things considered, it’s reasonably diverse. The supporting and background actors reflect some diversity. It’s not completely white washed. I think Emma Stone and Ryan Gossling have a lot of chemistry (first seen in the film Crazy, Stupid, Love). They’re not Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds (RIP). They’re not professional dancers/singers, but they have chemistry and are believable as star-crossed lovers. So the singing and dancing isn’t perfect but they accomplish what they need to as actors. Emma, like Julia Roberts and many others, doesn’t have a large range as an actor but she’s great at playing this kind of role.

    This is more of a romantic comedy with musical numbers than a traditional musical. It’s also about dreamers and how they need the support of others in order to follow their dreams. It’s not the best movie of the year, but it’s good.

  • Background actors doesnt mean diversity and you know it. I never got from the reviewer that bc the movie isnt diverse is bad. The film is bad bc the leads cant sing.

  • No one asked you to trust anything. Reviews arent about trust. They are about opinions. Go and form your own

  • There are only maybe four actors with any significant presence in this movie and one is John Legend. She also has a Latino roommate. Yes, I agree background actors alone wouldn’t be diverse, but considering this is a movie about a white couple, the cast is more diverse than many similar films.

    I have to disagree about the singing. It wasn’t bad. I wasn’t expecting the cast to be extraordinary singers though.

  • Agreed, particularly about how Emma’s biggest appeal is her self deprecation (which is in fact a skill she has mastered, but shouldn’t be confused for Oscar-winning talent here). The film LOOKS gorgeous, but it’s only a great musical for people who haven’t actually seen great musicals. With great musicals, you can take away the song and dance and the story is still great. This doesn’t have that ability. It’s fun and cutesy but empty

  • My wife and I saw this movie last night, and she liked it, but I had issues with the lack of the business side of show business – John Legend just doesn’t appear out of nowhere to hire Seb – you get noticed as maybe a studio musician and playing a lot of paying gigs – while most wannabe actors work evening jobs so they can show up for auditions – and very few (okay, nobody) gets cast as lead in a movie set in Paris without first appearing in some paid acting job. And, of course, succeed beyond anybody’s wildest dreams. I guess being a cute white couple leads to success by great coincidence.

    Not mentioning that neither of them would make it past the first round of “DWTS” or “The Voice”.

    Question – how does a guy manage to always display a two day growth of facial hair?

  • Get over yourself. Blah Blah Bland IS kind of stupid. If it makes the person not trust the reviewer’s opinion, that’s his or her business, not yours, ya stern old know it all.

  • This has got to be the most critical review I have ever read. They aren’t supposed to be the best singers or dancers. That’s not realistic. She is an actress and he is a jazz pianist. The fact that their other skills are average is what makes the movie great. Their singing and dancing seemed more real because it wasn’t perfect. It felt more like 2 people living and connecting on the screen than the silly showy-ness from more traditional musicals. I love musicals, but this is a different kind than, say, Singin’ in the Rain or White Christmas. This is realistic. It is beautiful.

  • i’m with you the movie is not that good and it shouldn’t last what it last, more than 2 hours lol, next….

  • Sorry for asking : a great musical doesn’t supposed to have great songs in it ? ‘Couse i will always remember those songs from My fair lady or The sound of music but from this …

  • Have no interest in seeing this film and was completely surprised to find out people/critics actually liked it enough to nominate it for an Academy Award or two. But I see I haven’t missed anything.

    Would love for ‘La La Land’ nominations to be replaced with some for ‘Queen of Katwe’. Can’t believe that beautiful film has been snubbed, but whatever.

  • I respect everyone’s opinion, although I believe there is a whole creative aspect to Gosling and Stone not being professional dancers and singers. They are just regular people trying to make it in an industry that seems impossible to succeed in. This adds a realism to the movie that is relatable and unique. If they were any more amazing at dancing and singing than they already were it would make the movie a bit unrealistic. At the end of the day they’re just real people. And that’s what makes this movie so riveting, and I wish more people could realize that. I believe only the close minded with a lack of creative thoughts find this movie dull, or complain about the singing and dancing being mediocre. This is a magical movie with 7 golden globes and 14 oscar nominations to prove it.

  • This has to be the first time I’ve ever seen someone say the performers in a musical shouldn’t actually be good singers and dancers. You do realize that most musicals aren’t about actual singers and dancers, right? But the performers in those musicals are still really good at singing and dancing? Even if they’re just playing regular people who inexplicably burst into song?

  • Maybe you want to see a movie where Ryan Gosling cops an attitude and explains black music to JOHN LEGEND.
    I sure don’t.

  • I am very familiar with musicals haha and I am not saying that the performers are not supposed to be good. I’m saying that the fact that they weren’t incredibleven added to the realism and relatability of the movie. Damien Chazelle did not write this movie because he wanted it to be the next Singin in the Rain. He wrote it because he felt the story needed to be told and I feel that making the main characters more relatable was a way to reach a broader audience by allowing people to see themselves in the character’s shoes. People in musicals rarely sing “inexplicably.” In a musical, most of the time, the characters sing because speaking is not enough to get their point across. Sometimes it’s just for fun, yes. The beauty of this movie is that two “real” people are living on the screen and sharing their story with us and they don’t care that their singing is not phenomenal. The performers don’t care what anyone else thinks about their performance necessarily. They are offering what they have to their characters and telling their story as best they can. Your stance that they should be incredible is completely unrealistic. In the case of this movie, their talents are perfect just the way they are because the movie is about real people.

  • He’s not explaining black music to John Legend. His character is explaining traditional jazz to another character who is betraying everything they used to believe in when they were younger lol

  • ‘Grease’ was about real people. Normal high school students. Yet they could all sing and dance.

  • Cool. Once again, I said that in the case of this movie, it works. You can’t compare this movie with a classic like grease. You have no argument here so quit trying to find one.

  • We each have our opinions, neither more correct than the other.
    You enjoyed the movie, good for you.
    I couldn’t get past the amateurish performances.

  • I think you missed this…
    “Yes, I agree background actors alone wouldn’t be diverse, but considering this is a movie about a white couple, the cast is more diverse than many similar films.”

  • Hi gals! What’ s your problem? Is it that it’ s too good to be true? Come on! Watch it again with no stone heart. Be indulgent with yourself and do not be ashamed to let your emotions speak lower! Feelings… nothing more than feelings…

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