Damien Chazelle, director & script
Starring: Ryan Gosling (Sebastian Walker), Emma Stone (Mia Dolan), John Legend (Keith), Rosemarie DeWitt (Laura), J.K. Simmons (Bill)
Hooray for Hollywood. Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is a surprisingly successful exercise in bringing back one of the old studio system’s favourite genres, the movie musical. Romance was always an important part in those films and Chazelle has handled that question by casting a couple of stars, who have real chemistry between them, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. The story, as befits a musical, is relatively simple although there are plot twists: boy meets girl (three times), boy gets girl (or maybe it’s the other way), boy loses girl (twice) and boy and girl fantasize about their romance that has gone awry.
As one can see from the slightly convoluted plot, Chazelle seems to have been caught between making a homage to the musical and trying to create something new. La La Land starts as if it’s going to be a homage, with a huge cast cavorting on the L.A. Freeway in a style reminiscent of Jerome Robbins’ brilliantly choreographed street scenes in West Side Story. Gradually, the film shifts into a more personal, almost downbeat drama about two young performers trying to make it in L.A. Gosling is particularly fine as a young jazz musician attempting to maintain his purity while working in a genre that attracts far fewer audiences than before. Stone, who can be amazing, is a little less persuasive as an actor who can’t catch a break in a city full of beautiful, talented young women.
La La Land is getting huzzahs from critics and taste makers across North America. To most, its mixture of realism, fate and romance works beautifully. There’s no doubt that Chazelle has made a very fine film and I love the musical genre.
But La La Land doesn’t thrill me the way it does most critics. Perhaps Chazelle may have tried too hard to revive the musical with doses of contemporary reality. It feels phony to me—phony in its roots. La La Land reminds me of the old Oscar Levant quote, “Strip away the phony tinsel of Hollywood and you will find the real tinsel underneath.” Perhaps the point of a great musical is its exercise in artifice. There may be nothing “real” to reveal.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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