La La Land… I Don’t Get It

I was so excited to see La La Land, given all the hype and the Oscar nominations and awards. The kindest thing I can say, though, is that I was underwhelmed.

I’m a big fan of the old Hollywood musicals, preferably with the tried-and-true formula — boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl in the end. The singing and dancing, combined with the right dialogue and chemistry between co-stars, make for a wonderful escape from real life. Some of my favourites are Singing in the Rain, Brigadoon, and High Society. I’ve seen a number of stage productions over the years, too, including Barbara Eden and Robert Goulet in South Pacific and Tommy Tune and Lucie Arnaz in My One and Only. And I even did some amateur musical theatre myself, when I was younger. So, I really went to see La La Land predisposed to like it.

The reality, unfortuntely, was different:

  • The opening number seems to have been included only for the purpose of having a big ensemble song and dance number. But to me if you’re going to do that, then the costumes should be more than just street clothes. There was only a very small connection to the rest of the movie, which was not even referenced later by the characters.
  • The old Hollywood musicals worked best when the leads were chosen for their excellent singing and dancing abilities. I think that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were chosen for their box office draw. Their singing was only OK (with one exceptional song) and their dancing was also only OK. The latter was particularly evident when Emma Stone danced alongside the other dancers.
  • The exceptional vocal performance by Emma Stone was “Audition (Fools Who Dream)”, which allowed her to build from her usual breathy vocal to a very big sound towards the end.
  • Emma Stone’s acting was good, with the various audition scenes showing the range of her abilities. I was surprised when she won Best Actress at the Oscars, though, because I didn’t think the part was deep enough to warrant that. I didn’t see chemistry between her and Ryan Gosling, and whether because of that or the directing/acting or the script, I found that I didn’t particularly care what happened to either of the characters. In fact, I found myself frequently checking my watch and thinking that if this had been on TV, I would have turned it off.
  • One bright spot in the movie was John Legend, who was very believable as Gosling’s band mate and whose amazing musical talent shines through in his scenes.
  • In the closing sequence, the movie received the big Hollywood musical treatment, and this mini-film was excellent in taking us through events as they could have happened, through singing and dancing. I was left wishing that the whole movie had been like this.

IIMG_0910 - Copyn the end, I was very disappointed and left wondering how this film could possibly have been nominated for 14 Academy Awards and have in fact won 6 Oscars. I guess I can see the awards for cinematography and production design, but the rest frankly leave me scratching my head.

 

 

 

 

23 thoughts on “La La Land… I Don’t Get It

  1. I agree with you based on the one bit of the film I’ve seen — they can’t sing.

    It’s an interesting point about the casting — the classic musicals all had very talented individuals at their core — even if they weren’t top voices, they were excellent singers and most importantly, they knew how to put a song across, how to communicate with an audience (live or on film). I agree (also when you look at the history of people attached to this film but then “detached”) that they were casting for box office draw. Seems like for something like this they would really need today’s “people who can put a song over,” which would probably be music pop stars and not actors.

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    • I think that someone like Anna Kendrick could have done it better, but then she has musical theatre experience. Emma Stone’s singing actually reminded me of Britney Spears, with the breathy quality. Ryan Gosling didn’t have much to sing beyond a very low “City of Stars”, which didn’t require much vocal range.
      I see they were originally thinking about Emma Watson. I’m interested to see how she’ll do with “Beauty and the Beast”.

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      • also Miles Teller, guess. Don’t know if she can sing. I don’t plan to see BATB. However, I do watch those classic musicals when they come on TV, definitely.

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  2. Yes! I am totally with you on this! I was underwhelmed by the singing and dancing and am stumped about the awards glory it’s been receiving. Like you, I think the ending redeemed the movie somewhat although even then I am left wondering what really stood in the way of them ending up together. Still, that mini movie at the end touched me way more than the whole movie had. I still feel that Emma Stone’s Oscar nomination should have gone to Amy Adams… and that Amy should have won! Or Meryl Streep! Or Ruth Negga!

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    • I’m just coming out of a long period of working morning noon and night, so i haven’t actually seen any of the Oscar movies yet! (Unusual for me.) So this was actually the first one I’ve seen… From reading what’s been said about the other performances, though, it sounds like the others would have been better choices.

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  3. Thank you for the comment. I felt the same way, when I saw the movie. I really love that typical old Hollywood Dancefilm genre like the ones with Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. They have this kind of charming attitude I simply can’t resist.
    When I saw “La La Land” I really tried to give it a chance and saw the movie they reffered to, but the feeling of old Hollywood was missed. I thought the hd-quality was too hard, the lights mostly not soft to create the atmosphere which is needed for musical films.
    But i have to admit when films recieve this immense “Best of the year/decade” – thing I always get a bit sceptical, because they seemed to be forced to be a success. And next year nobody will talk about them anymore.

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    • Gene Kelly was my favourite. Apparently his widow has been touring with her stories and pictures, but unfortunately not to my city. She was in her twenties and he in his seventies when they met.
      I didn’t think about the lighting and hd quality… that’s an interesting point. Softer might have helped the atmosphere.

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      • Well I am more a Fred Astaire – Girl. In German we would use the word “Charmebolzen” (charm studs? Prince Charming? ) for that what I like about ihm.
        Gene Kelly truly is also great – And his “I’m singing in the rain”-Dance… wonderful. He always makes me smile about it.
        Oh – well fifty years.. so why not,
        IAbout the lighting: i noticed it several times, Not just for La La Land – a lot of this dreamlike atmosphere is missing and you see the layers of make-up on an actors face. Magic gone away…

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  4. yeah, it’s too bad. Honestly, they’re not wrong that almost anyone (who doesn’t have cognitive hurdles like tone deafness) can be taught to sing much better with time and practice. It’s just that they don’t often really find a jewel in the rough there — most people can be taught to sing better, but almost no one can be taught to be Celine Dion. You’d think they’d think about casting more from the perspective of trying to sell records as well.

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    • I suppose that there’s a lot more money to be made from movies than from record sales nowadays though.
      For someone who’s not an experienced singer, I would think that there really isn’t enough time available before a movie to bring their singing up to more than adequate. Celine Dion, for example, was performing I think from when she was about 13! Plus of course, as you say, you can’t teach natural talent.

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  5. Pingback: Actors as Singers | I'm Feeling This

  6. I’ve found your blog. Nice place you’ve got here. 🙂

    I agree wholeheartedly about La La Land. It was a nice movie, but such a big Oscar contender? I just didn’t see it.

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