“… charming as hell.”
Do you know that feeling when you see a trailer for a movie or television show and you think to yourself “That looks pretty good, I think I’ll check it out”. Then what feels like a thousand people all individually tell you that this movie/television show is “amazing” and that “you would love it”, and even the more rare “It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen”; this kind of ruins your excitement for the movie/ televisions show because people have been annoying you with the fact that it exists for too long already. In more extreme cases, this may even prevent you from seeing the movie/television show out of spite. I’m telling you this because this almost happened to me with La La Land. I remember seeing the trailer for La La Land a long time ago (and by the way, the trailer sets up a wildly different tone than the movie presents) and deciding that I want to check it out. Unfortunately for the last month seemingly every single critic (and person I follow on twitter) started gushing about how it is the best movie of the year and some even jumped to the extreme of saying it was the best movie ever. This got in the way of me wanting to see the film, but luckily last night I bit the bullet and went to see it anyway. La La Land is a film about two people in Hollywood who are both determined to follow their dreams. The story follows this pair as they first meet, and eventually fall in love with one another. Oh ya, and it’s a musical.
Now I’m probably going to say some shit that might make it sound like I didn’t like La La Land, so let me just say right off the bat that I really did like the movie. As far as musicals go, La La Land was great. All of the songs were very catchy, but they also had a lot of heart as well. The singing was great, and the choreography was great as well. La La Land did a good job of incorporating the music into the story, rather than the songs feeling really out of place (though there were a few exceptions). As far as movies go, La La Land was also really good. The direction was wonderful, really utilizing the fact that the camera didn’t have to be cemented to one location which provided a real sense of immersion in the film (and it was also beautiful). La La Land featured great performances by both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, as well as many other actors. And I really enjoyed the story, and where it went in relation to where I thought it would go (I’m being intentionally vague here).
But those things didn’t necessarily make me love La La Land, but what got me close was the undeniable charm that the film seemed to ooze. La La Land is as close to a classic musical as you could get, without actually going and watching a classic musical. Now when I say classic musical I’m thinking of movies like Singin’ in the Rain or really anything with Fred Astaire. What gave La La Land this charm was the way the film was executed. First and foremost, the sets in La La Land were absolutely beautiful. The film utilized realistic locations, but it also wasn’t afraid to get a little quirky in its set design. One thing that kept coming to mind when watching La La Land was the fact that the movie could use an obvious “sound stage set” (much like the famous sequence in Singin’ in the Rain) to really cement that feeling of nostalgia. Lo and behold, by the end of the movie my wish was granted and it was every bit as beautiful as I had hoped. This sequence also featured some really wonderful practical effects that reminded of something that you would find in a Wes Anderson film. It wasn’t just the sets or connection to classic musicals that gave La La Land its charm, but also some smaller things. One thing that I absolutely loved about La La Land was the costume designs. I found it very appealing that the costumes (especially toward the beginning of the film) were very brightly coloured, which gave the film a very whimsical (for lack of a better word) appearance. Another thing that caught my eye was the use of lighting, specifically the spotlight that would engulf characters as they began to sing. Not only was this very impressive and effective, but it also made the show feel more like a stage production than a movie.
Now lets get to the part that I warned you about earlier: what I didn’t like about La La Land. La La Land had one glaring issue to me, and that is the fact that the film felt too long (or La La Long, if you will). Looking back I don’t think there were any unnecessary scenes, so the problem falls more on the films pacing. The easiest way to explain the problems I had with la La Land would be to say It felt like it was two different movies mixed together. By that I mean, it felt like Damien Chazelle wrote a script then shot two different versions of it; one a musical, and the other a drama. Now don’t get me wrong, La La Land is definitely a musical. I would even go so far as to say that it is unapologetically a musical due to the fax that the film opens with a giant song-and-dance number that breaks out on the freeway during rush hour. The problem I had was that the film seemed to forget it was a musical every once in a while, and then throw in another song just so people remembered that there was supposed to be singing in the movie. So it felt like there were two movies shot, and then they were crudely stitched together at the end. Sometimes we would have two really upbeat songs in a row, but then there would be thirty minutes of really depressing dialogue, then we would get another happy song, then there would be a ten minute break, then the song would be sad, then we would get a happy song, etc. Like I said I don’t think the movie could have cut anything out to fix this problem, I think the problem lies in the films presentation. This drastic shift in tone that occurs many times makes it feel like you have been watching the movie for three hours by the time the credits roll. To say it is exhausting would have a negative connotation, but there is no better word I can think of to describe it. I also had a problem with the very end of the movie, but I won’t discuss that here because I don’t want to spoil it. And it wasn’t really a major problem anyway, it just kind of made me question what the director was trying to achieve.
Despite finding multiple problems with La La Land, I can respect it for what it is. As a musical it was great, as a movie it was great (with a caveat), the story was great (also with a caveat), and it was charming as hell.
I give La La Land an A