Hooray for Hollywood! As an homage to the Tinseltown of the past, "La La Land" is somewhat of a letdown. Writer/director Damien Chazelle ("Whiplash", 2014) starts off with a rousing, clever musical number on a crowded LA freeway, but then has his two protagonists
giving each other the middle finger --- sigh.
Mia (Emma Stone) is a barista on the Warner Bros. lot. She dreams of becoming an actress, but thus far hasn't had much luck at her auditions. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a down-on-his-luck jazz pianist, who refuses to follow the play list of his current employer, Bill (J.K. Simmons), and is promptly fired. It's Christmas, but Bill doesn't care.
Sebastian and Mia, the two who flipped each other off, are destined to be together --- they keep running into one another. After one particularly glorious party up in the Hollywood Hills, Sebastian aids Mia in locating her car which leads to a lovely tap dance number, a la Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. And when, during another meeting, Mia informs Sebastian that she dislikes jazz, he is determined to change her mind. All of this leads to a beautiful romance, until Mia is faced with a life-changing decision.
Yes, "La La Land" is gorgeous --- no doubt. And, let's face it, it is fabulous to have musicals again as a genre. But, I am a product of the big musicals of the '50's and '60's (I had much older siblings) like "Carousel", "Singin' in the Rain", "South Pacific", "West Side Story", etc. and for me, "La La Land" doesn't come close.
Stone and Gosling are darling together and they exude great chemistry, but they are no Rogers/Astaire. Also, I found Stone's singing voice lacking, especially in her solo "The Fools Who Dream", which is a pivotal part of the movie. Stone is an enchanting, talented actress. her expressive face conveys every emotion perfectly. However, I wish Chazelle had taken a chance on two unknowns with bigger voices.
John Legend has a small role as Keith, a friend of Sebastian's who leads a band and offers him a steady job. And Rosemary DeWitt, a favorite of mine, plays Sebastian's sister. Both, along with Simmons, are totally under-utilized. "La La Land" is primarily focused on Mia and Sebastian, and thankfully Stone and Gosling are up to the task of carrying the film.
It's not that I don't appreciate the efforts of the cast and crew of "La La Land" --- Los Angeles has never looked better. The set designs and Stone's costumes are divine. Perhaps I was expecting too much, but for the rest of the moviegoers, "La La Land" should be a pleasurable experience.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!
I love musicals...."Les Misérables", "42nd Street", "West Side Story"....their common thread was that the actors could sing. Okay, some skeptics may not consider Russell Crowe much of a vocalist, I get it.
The newest movie musical, "La La Land", has a bit of a problem in that its two main stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, do not have strong voices. They can carry a tune, but only marginally. Nevertheless, the two A-Listers have so much on-screen magnetism --- and they make a nice couple --- I'm willing to overlook their singing shortcomings.
Beyond that, I enjoyed Mia's (Stone) struggle with her auditions --- the frustration and harshness inherent in the entertainment industry are well conceived. Sebastian's (Gosling) own problems are less compelling, but what is impressive is his keyboard work. Yes, he does do his own piano playing in the film, and it's remarkable.
I also enjoyed the dance routine by Gosling and Stone, looking dapper in their duo-colored tap shoes. It's a segment I would have liked more of from writer/director Damien Chazelle. As for the opening song-and-dance extravaganza staged by young people stuck on a freeway bridge in a traffic jam, it was well choreographed, yet not as memorable compared to the entire ensemble of "42nd Street" performing "We're in the Money", for example.
The film has a rather surprising ending, one that will invite post-film discussions. With "La La Land", don't expect a totally engrossing movie experience along the lines of Chazelle's Oscar-nominated (Best Writing) "Whiplash" from 2014.
Opinion: Wait for DVD