What I’ve Been…Watching : La La Land

My thoughts on La La Land? I am tempted to post a photo of me shrugging and leave it at that, but I won’t.  What I will say is that this is a movie that seems to do a lot of things well on the surface:

There’s the extremely talented cast who play their roles well, both in terms of character work, but also with the singing and dancing required of a musical. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are both excellent, and the few supporting roles that aren’t there for the ensemble musical numbers are good as well.

It nails the visual style of the old musicals it is emulating (more on that in sec), and the s0ngs are all certainly listenable, even if none of them really stand out as amazing numbers in their own right.  So too the dance numbers: some visually distinctive things happen, and the movie uses modern film making techniques to break away from the old timey feel on a couple of occasions in some (very) interesting ways.

So why did it not remotely click for me?

Partly, I think, was that there was only the thinnest skein of story on top of all the pretty people dancing and singing prettily in pretty locations with pretty, over-saturated colours.  The actors themselves give engaging performances, but nothing at all that they are doing is really all that interesting. Even for a genre where plot typically takes a backseat, it is noticeably absent here, as is any depth to the characters beyond the Act 1 journey from snarky arseholes to madly in love.

I referenced it above, but the film is not so much a loving homage to old musicals as it is directly lifting from them, the only difference being the time period the film is set in and modern day nods to visual and audio effects, as well as diverse casting (and I say nods here, because the supporting roles are almost non-existent, and the two main characters are white). The issue with emulating that old style so slavishly is that you have to be at least as good as – and, crucially, as memorable as – the movies you are mimicking.

La La Land is nowhere near as good as those musicals. The story and characters are not at all memorable, but worse than that, neither is the music.  A few of the dance numbers go places with their visual effects, but that is a small bright spot in an otherwise completely bland film.  The most notable thing about La La Land for me was how sadly mundane the whole thing was.