ENTERTAINMENT: “La La Land” Looks Pretty, But Doesn’t Go Much Further

(Photo courtesy imdb.com)

By Tyler Chavez – News Editor

“La La Land” has quickly become one of the more popular films among critics and the box office in the past few months. Directed by Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) and starring Emma Stone (“Birdman”, “The Amazing Spider-Man”, and “Easy A”), Ryan Gosling (“The Big Short”, “Drive”, and “The Notebook”), and recording artist John Legend, “La La Land” tells the story of two young artists struggling in Hollywood to achieve their dreams and maintain their relationship. What’s interesting is that while this is an age-old trope, especially in musicals, it’s been quite a long time since an original film musical has captivated audiences as much as this film has.

In short, “La La Land” is a film that looks and sounds pretty, but does little beyond that. Damien Chazelle should be awarded for his precise directing that makes the film both beautiful and at times emotional, and there are moments where “La La Land” does really take the audience on a musical journey, but the weak storytelling and the film’s lack of commitment to the art of the musical prevents the movie from being truly great. “La La Land” is not a bad film by any means; it’s quite enjoyable and entertaining, but it doesn’t deserve all of the praise it has received.

Chazelle burst onto the directing scene with 2014’s “Whiplash”, a movie that is quite different from a musical. But he has proven himself as a great director with “La La Land”. Even though the films have quite different tones, they have the same themes of the danger of working for your dreams and an appreciation for old art like jazz. “La La Land” has some truly beautiful scenes. The opening number is energetic and a prime example of what an opening ensemble number should be. And Stone’s and Gosling’s dance sequence featuring a beautiful backdrop makes the Hollywood twilight seem like a gorgeous painting for a big Broadway set. Chazelle proves with “La La Land” that he is a director to keep tabs on for the future, he is not a one-hit wonder. The film’s directing and cinematography are charming, colorful, and reflect the art of the musical quite well.

As mentioned earlier, “La La Land” is interesting as it is the first big original musical in quite some time. But does it stay truthful to the genre? In my eyes, not consistently. While there certainly are some impressive and fun numbers, the majority of the songs themselves are not very memorable, Outside of “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”, the other songs are forgettable. Viewers will remember some shots and sequences, but that’s due to the directing and cinematography. Truthfully, it’s like “La La Land” wants the aesthetic of a musical without the full commitment to it. For example, the songs in a musical are meant to mean something. They introduce characters or a setting, explain plot and story, or are a major plot point. But in “La La Land”, the majority of them are just excuses to have a fun choreography sequence. They don’t add anything to the plot. As a musical, “La La Land” is pretty barebones.

The numbers are not the only thing that failed to leave an imprint. The story of “La La Land”, while not boring or easily predictable, isn’t satisfying. The film tries so hard to keep the focus on Stone and Gosling’s characters. For example, there is an extremely interesting dynamic between Gosling and Legend’s characters. The two used to be in a band together and disagree over how to jazz relevant. John Legend thinks that jazz needs to evolve and modernize to stay relevant while Gosling believes that jazz should stay pure and to its roots. What’s interesting is that this debate, whether art should modernize or not to stay relevant, is a central theme of the movie as it takes old forms of Hollywood storytelling in a modern setting. Does this conflict, which honestly someone could make a whole movie out of, ever get resolved? No. Gosling leaves the band at the start of the third act and we never hear from John Legend again. What could have been an interesting conflict is tossed aside to keep the focus on Stone and Gosling’s relationship.

“La La Land” should be applauded for not being predictable and having an ending that may seem quiet and bitter-sweet, but has a lot to say and is ultimately for the best. The ending is moving in a sequence that captures the untold truth of achieving your dreams and falling in love. This does not justify the other problems of the story (that it focuses too much on the lovers and just kind of lounges around for the first two acts), but the story does enough to not make me bored. There have been debates over whether the characters are likeable or not, and a strong argument can be made that Stone’s is more likeable than Gosling’s. Ignoring the fact that Ryan Gosling isn’t that great of a singer, his character is written to be not very likeable as he undermines Stone’s dreams and more often than not just comes off as a jerk. Stone’s character is more innocent and hopeful, she’s charming and likeable.

“La La Land” is a pleasant film. It’s very pretty and has a somewhat engaging story to tell, but the hype is overrated. The main characters, while still nice, are not too relatable, the movie doesn’t stay true to its musical roots, and there’s a more interesting plot point that gets swept aside for the sake of focusing on the main characters. There’s not much to “La La Land” beside its pretty people, pretty music, and pretty visuals. “La La Land” is deserving of some praise, but much of that praise comes from the fact that it’s a movie about old Hollywood, and Hollywood loves movies about itself.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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