My Thoughts On La La Land
I remember watching Whiplash, which was Damien Chazelle’s previous film. For anyone who’s not seen it, it’s the story of a young guy played by Miles Teller who’s trying to navigate life and love while becoming a great drummer. There was a lot of praise for that film and frankly I didn’t get it. I just didn’t care. I didn’t watch the film expecting to come out of it wanting to be a drummer but I did expect to care whether Teller’s character succeeded or failed. I don’t want to be boxer but I cared that Rocky went the distance with Apollo Creed. I’ve never worked for the Treasury Department but I cared that Eliot Ness kept fighting till the fight was done. There are a lot of ways to make movies but their success or failure all comes down to one thing: emotional connection. Do I care what’s happening to the characters on screen? In the case of Whiplash the answer was most certainly no.
So when it came to Chazelle’s next film, La La Land, I approached it with a little bit of caution. It is getting a lot of praise, even more than Whiplash. It’s winning just about every award going. It’ll probably clean up at the BAFTAs tonight and at the Oscars in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, once again, I don’t get it. I enjoyed it more than Whiplash for sure. I thought Emma Stone was fantastic and I did care, very much, what happened to her. Maybe a little less so for Ryan Gosling but I find him to be a difficult actor to like (don’t even get me started on Drive or The Place Beyond the Pines). La La Land is a sweet little film but the best film of the past year? Really?
I came out of it humming City of Stars, which is a nice song but not a great song and the only song I could actually remember a few hours later. For a musical that’s pretty weak, right? My favourite musical of all time is Singin’ in the Rain. Well, there’s a whole bunch of great songs in that. The same goes for The Wizard of Oz or Chicago or Grease or Moulin Rouge or Mamma Mia (and that’s got Pierce Brosnan proving that people who’ve played James Bond really can’t sing in much the same way that Sean Connery did in Darby O’Gill and the Little People). Surely a great musical must have more than one memorable song.
And then there’s the ending. There be spoilers ahead so don’t read on if you haven’t seen the film yet. Romantic movies end one of two ways: either the lovers end up together or they don’t. You can probably make that argument for most films but the secret to a great satisfying ending is to give the audience what they want in a way they don’t expect. La La Land gave this audience member anyway what I didn’t want in a way I didn’t expect. Would it have be pat and contrived if Mia and Sebastian had lived happily ever after? Was that the point of the flashback to what might have been? Thing is I don’t know who that boring looking guy she’s married to is so I have zero emotion invested in them as a couple. Which means that I have to want that life for Mia based solely on my feelings for her over the previous two hours. She looked happy and her kid was cute so I should be happy for her, right? I wasn’t. Why did she have to end up with such a stiff? Why couldn’t she have ended up with someone with a modicum of personality? Someone who even though I don’t know who he is I can guess or hope or even read into that they’re going to have a great, fun, exciting life together. Mr boring suit man did not leave me with that impression. Also, it seems somewhat unrealistic that a movie star would put her career on hold so early to go and have a kid even if she was only out of the game for a few months. Mia’s spent years trying to get to this place. Actresses are calculating. That’s not meant to be an insult. They have to be. The reality is that they have a shorter shelf life than their male counterparts. Ryan Gosling will still be playing the romantic lead when Emma Stone is playing the mum and there’s already an eight-year age difference between them in her favour.
Ultimately, La La Land is sweet and charming and diverting. But there’s no real substance to it. It’s candy floss. So what am I missing? Why have so many people been seduced by candy floss?