‘La La Land’ Is Elegant In It’s Pandering Simplicity

La La Land is about as blatantly pandering to hipsters, cinephiles, and film critics as a film possibly could be. It’s a melding of modern setting and film techniques with the style and aesthetics of a musical from the Golden Age of Hollywood, so the whole production basically functions as one giant love letter to those who look upon that era of film with starry-eyed wonder and reverence. This inevitably is going to lead those who review films on a regular basis to look at this film with optimistic and adoring eyes, primarily because it was made for them. That having been said (before the pitchforks and torches come out), La La Land is a legitimately good film, one that achieves a level of greatness in its final moments that will stick with its audience for a long while to come.

La La Land is a fairly simple story of love in show business. Seb (Ryan Gosling) is a struggling jazz musician who wants to open his own club in order to keep classic jazz alive. Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress working as a barista on a studio lot and can’t seem to catch a break. He was a boy. She was a girl. Couldn’t get any more obvious. As the two get to know one another and their relationship blossoms, they help each other achieve their dreams, only to discover that they perhaps aren’t giving each other what they truly want.

Simple stories aren’t bad in and of themselves, but they do need to offer something in exchange for their lack of narrative novelty in order to stand out as something interesting, and while La La Land is a very simple narrative, it is simple in service to a retro musical aesthetic that is nothing short of charming. From the very beginning, the film impresses with sweeping cinematography, astounding choreography, and a production design that is vibrant as it is inspired. Blues, reds, yellows, and greens offer a quadranted color motif as the film moves through its four act-seasons (more on that in a moment), neatly emphasizing the artificiality of the story without ever breaking the immersion the audience feels in the moment. This is a showy film where two excellent lead actors sing and dance their way through familiar territory, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a film commit so wholly to an unironic old-fashioned tribute to classic cinema and manage to still have inherent charm that doesn’t rely on nostalgia.

What bumps this film up from being merely good—an immensely well-crafted good, but still merely enjoyable rather than gripping—is the surprise fifth act that it would be an absolute sin to spoil. The film takes a turn that is at once unexpected and so poetic that one cannot help but be moved by it, and the amount of thought and dedication that went into making it gel is mind-boggling. If Whiplash didn’t convince you that Damien Chazelle is a writer and director to be reckoned with, this finale is what will cause you to perk up and take notice.

If there’s one thing that is disappointing about La La Land, it’s that the music isn’t all that memorable, which seems like it should be a bigger problem for a musical than it ends up being here. None of the music is actually bad; far from it, all of it is perfectly enjoyable in the moment, especially as the visual spectacle accompanies it, but none of it made me want to buy the soundtrack, nor can I point to any one song as a favorite because they all sort of bleed together. And yet, despite that, La La Land is a lot of fun that deserves the recognition it’s receiving as a great piece of cinema. Just maybe consider who the film is pandering to when you hear just how high the praise is.

Score: 8.5/10

Main Photo: Courtesy of Summit Entertainment


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Author: Leigh Monson View all posts by

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