Movie Review: La La Land

La La Land is a delightful throwback backed by earnest performances and deft directorial choices, but offers nothing more than its superficial thrills.

Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a dedicated jazz musician, scrapes by playing cocktail piano gigs in dingy bars, but as success mounts they are faced with decisions that begin to fray the fragile fabric of their love affair, and the dreams they worked so hard to maintain in each other threaten to rip them apart.

Hollywood has unashamedly dived into the recycling business, one half of which is powered by nostalgia.

This time around, we have a musical that has garnered acclaim before its worldwide release.

The hype isn’t exactly empty if you are fan of musicals. From the moment Emma Stone dances in the street with a Jacques Demy inspired dress, its evident that La La Land is a homage. The movie’s themes are a modern spin of its predecessors as it deals with change (Singing in the Rain) and portrays the opposing fate of its leads (A Star is Born).

Damien Chazelle’s skill behind the camera keeps things engaging. He excels in capturing movement and creating moments. In one sequence the camera jumps into the pool to land at the center of song and dance number, spinning until everything becomes a blur and then cuts to a lone Mia standing in an empty spot were her towed car had been. Left with no choice, she walks through the empty streets until her fated meeting with Sebastian. La La Land is filled with this deftly assembled sequences that mixes intricate and minimal visuals with the help of detailed production design and performers. And of course, there are whip pan laden scenes.

While La La Land provides all the thrills of its genre, it has empty prestige.

It’s predictable tale is packed with retro elements to hit Oscar judges with the power of nostalgia such as a CinemaScope title card and three color Technicolor palette. While there’s nothing wrong with TBT its musical references are distinct films. La La Land coasts on the pairing of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling who proved to be an endearing couple in Crazy, Stupid Love.

There’s nothing much to either of their characters apart from show business cliches. Mia is a struggling actress who works as a barista. Sebastian is a struggling musician who wants to save jazz (a white narrative that’s conveniently drowned out by the Oscar buzz). They have little in common, just talk about work when they’re together, and are incapable of compromise.

Emma Stone steals the show, but the movie could have benefited from stronger triple threats. The freeway opening number is spectacular even though it looks like a Gap ad but remains unmatched. The choreography and music doesn’t offer much, an inevitable result when you try to emulate celebrated classics but don’t have the material to match.

As the movie ends with a what-could-have-been fantasy medley that cinephiles would recognize from An American in Paris, its clear that La La Land is just a throwback.

It’s a well directed throwback nonetheless.

Personally I can’t help but think of what could have happened if it had a black character who’s in the perfect position to save jazz in a time of auto tuned hip hop. And what could have this looked like next to a determined actress in a time where feminism and diversity is sold as a product.

I digress, La La Land aims to be a light and candy colored pastiche revolving around the romance of two fated attractive people. It’s still a breath of fresh air from all the reboots, sequels, and CGI fodder. At the least, it tells us the uncompromising reality between love and personal fulfillment.

My Rating: 7/10

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