La La Land – Insipid But Entertaining
This 2016 Academy Award nominated musical (a record tying 14 nominations), written and directed by Damien Chazelle (the wunderkind creator of the astonishing Whiplash) is this year’s can-do-no-wrong romantic comedy starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
La La Land is a bold resurrection of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers 1940-50s musical with a blend of nostalgia (using filtered-lens cinematography and period costumes) mixed with the novelty of contemporary millennial life in Los Angeles. A flip-book of competing images of vintage and modern L.A. with twirling skirts and old-fashioned dancing, La La Land is all about dreaming for the big break in Hollywood.
An undeniable paean to the joy and ecstasy of following your passions, this film also touches upon the sacrifices to one’s personal life, to missed connections and to other dreams that will never come true. Part “Never-Never Land” and part “Singing in the Rain.” However, the conventional storyline – love versus ambition – never rises above being forgettable.
Perhaps the most interesting interlude in the film, however, is Mia and Seb’s friend, Keith (John Legend) whose relaxed approach to the commercial aspects of being a musician challenge Seb’s dogmatic “purist” views of selling out to music venues. The difference between selling out and breaking through is not always clear, and La La Land is not so hypocritical as to pretend otherwise. I loved this observation.
The cinematography and special effects are the best part of this movie. Except for the song “City of Stars,” the music is more competent than dazzling. You’re more likely to remember what you saw than what you heard.
Where is La La Land going? Is this Hollywood couple going to make it after all? Should we care? The film suffers from what it is supposed to parody: Hollywood’s addiction to artifice and self-congratulation. (Amen, sister! – Ed.) By the end, La La Land is an imperfect film that entertains, partly because it is a pleasant surprise to see Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone singing and dancing.
Sometimes a movie comes along that is entertaining and refreshingly light when we desire that intensely. Right for this moment, viewers can forgive La La Land for being a not very good but deliciously tasty confection of sound and color. I expected more given all the awards and accolades.
Diana Y. Paul
Diana Y. Paul is a retired Stanford professor, an expert on Buddhism and an author (Things Unsaid: A Novel). You can read more of her reviews at the Unhealed Wound blog: