I liked La La Land very much, but I can’t say it made my heart sing. Which is to say I didn’t love it. Not gaga here. On the other hand, KCRW had songs from the film playing in rotation the week immediately after I saw it, and I admit they’ve grown on me. That’s good, because my initial reaction was that the music was a little unoriginal and unmemorable. Less than ideal for a film that has been hyped to heck for six months and hailed as the savior of Hollywood musicals.
Which is a silly thing to say anyway. Les Miz and Rock of Ages, from just a couple years ago, were impressive musicals. Chicago, from 2002, won Best Picture. And there is no signature tune in La La Land that will be hummed in 30 years. No “Singin’ in the Rain,” no “Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins; no “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music. Nothing so iconic here. Nor a single musical performance as jaw-dropping as Anne Hathaway’s in Les Miz.
Which is why, in part, nothing shot out at me from La La Land screaming “THIS IS PURE MAGIC,” despite its labors to that effect. Another reason is the musical scenes don’t feel as organic as they should. Still, the music is good. It doesn’t fall into the trap of Inside Llewyn Davis, a musical which features forgettable, even irrelevant music. Which leads to the assets of this film: astounding performances and magic on film. Magical individual scenes, that is — not magic as a whole. But there is one great scene after another — great singing and dancing, and a terrific representation of the eternally mystical, and magical, City of Angels.
* * *
Now back to the negatives. The underlying story is, fundamentally, a repackaged cliché (Flashdance, anyone? Or better yet, Good Will Hunting) which might have been overcome with more interesting, perhaps conflicted characters. The two stars don’t really have any faults — they are essentially perfect — and as such are rather 2-dimensional. This is why Whiplash is a cut above, even without the spectacular flair.
I point out all the flaws of La La Land because this is where my criticism diverges from anyone else’s — which is always the point of this blog. The picture’s adulation is readily available and practically ubiquitous. My summary: La La Land ranks just behind Hail, Caesar! as the top film of the year. And in this exceptionally weak year for movies, La La Land is a freight-train to Oscarland.
* * *
Every time I watch a snippet or hear a song, La La Land keeps growing on me, despite my reservations. Initially I thought I would not need to see it again any time soon, but now — two weeks later — I’m looking forward to some day paying another visit. It must be more catchy than I first reckoned. Maybe I am gaga. 8/10
Comparison Notes: Besides the films already mentioned above: Everyone Says I Love You (I have not seen); Recommended: Café Society, Mulholland Dr., L.A. Story, The Player
* * *
UPDATE: Since we’re upon the time for my year-end list, I need to officially downgrade Where to Invade Next. That was never really a 9/10 film, but I was so impressed with the material that I inflated the rating. Its true value: 8/10, which I think will still counts for top five of the year. And by the way, we have got to give credit for Michael Moore for predicting the Trump win. That adds even more credence to Where to Invade Next, and indeed his entire oeuvre.