By Grace Armstrong
La La Land is a 2016 musical-romantic-comedy-drama written and directed by Damien Chazelle, whose work includes 10 Cloverfield Lane and Whiplash. La La Land is the story of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician, attempting to pursue their dreams in modern day Los Angles. They meet, fall in love and try to balance their lives with their dreams. La La Land has won a vast array of awards, some include: “Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy”, “Best Original Score – Motion Picture” and “Best Screenplay – Motion Picture”. Beyond its numerous awards, La La Land has managed to capture the hearts of many. But did it capture mine?
I saw La La Land not expecting much, contrary to many who go in to see it. I managed to avoid the vast advertising and overall hype of the movie. As a result, I had no real expectations going into the movie. I knew it was a musical that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were in, but that was about it.
To begin, the cinematography was overall very good, boarding on excellent. The color editing of the movie was absolutely beautiful, the movie felt alive. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The movie is clearly trying to capture the essence of 1950s musicals, and I believe that it, for the most part, captures this very well. The choreography is spot on and whimsical. The clothing popped out of the screen and the lighting was almost perfect in every scene. There are many fantastic dance scenes that are beautiful-like the observatory scene. And everyone who’s seen the movie agrees-the ending scene was a powerful mixture of visuals and music.
The actors are, of course, very talented. However, they both suffer from two problems: poor writing and mediocre singing. Mia’s and Sebastian’s romance is contrived and lacking chemistry. They fall in love because they are both failures in their respective art/profession. She uses him to make herself feel better and he uses her to rant about jazz. I personally only liked the moments where they didn’t speak and just danced in silence. Although I personally thought Mia’s character was fine, I was irritated by Sebastian. This jazz purist is just a lazy hipster jerk. He established early on that he wants to have his own jazz club, but he refuses to do any work that would allow him to get that money.
Third, but most importantly, the movie tries to balance the whimsy of a 1950’s musical and the recent trend in more realistic films. Once again, the movie looks fantastic; however, the realism cripples the musical parts. The second half of the movie is basically completely devoid of any musical parts, until Mia randomly bursts out into song. Granted, this may be an artistic choice, but to me, I just forgot it was a musical. Of course, there are many musical-to-film adaptations that are based in realism and have many songs (Les Miserables, Grease, etc.). Les Miserables had its actors sing on set like La La Land, and Les Miserables is oft criticized for its poor quality. However, Les Miserables’s cast are people who are suffering and underfed; its gritty and dark, its music is there to emphasize the pain of characters, the poor singing from suffering people makes sense. For Grease, which is a 1980s nostalgia for 1970s nostalgia for the 1950s, the exaggeration and silliness is to be expected. La La Land’s commitment to reality hurts the movie’s chance in capturing the whimsy aspect of a musical.
To answer my previous question, La La Land did not capture my heart like it did with so many others. It had so much potential, but it failed to balance reality and whimsy, and therefore failed to be the masterpiece it sought to be. This movie was not written with the story in mind, but the story was written around the visuals. Chazelle clearly had an aesthetic and ending in mind for La La Land, and the story was just put in as an excuse for the visuals. Although visuals are a big part of a movie, they alone cannot carry an entire musical, and unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for me.
Grace Armstrong is a first-year at Barnard and contributor for Barnard Bite.