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.
In 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.