Film Review: La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle
Release date: dec 2016
Plot summary: A young barista from Hollywood dreams of becoming an actress and goes from casting to casting. She meets a jazz pianist and they fall in love.
I just read a few dithyrambic press reviews about this film and I also saw that it has already won many awards and distinctions, in Venice, Toronto, Boston, New-York, at the Golden Globes 2017 and it is nominated for God-knows-how-many Oscars.
And I am very sorry to announce that this review will be rather different... But I am truly sorry, because I love musicals, I love the very concept and essence of musical, and I really truly wanted to love this film!
My first criticism is about the rhythm. And this is very subjective and personal... but I tend not to enjoy films with a low rhythm (for instance, Japanese films), and there are a lot of long long takes in this film. The very opening scene is (supposed to be) a whole scene, song included, in just one take. And from this very scene, I foresaw that I was going to be rather bored... Which is what happened, unfortunately...
Along with the rhythm come the dialogues. They are quite few, actually. Entire parts of the film are just successions of scenes with music, without dialogues. And suddenly, a long dialogue, the usual small talk, which ends in a huge fight and someone slamming the door... What the f*** just happened??
Along with the rhythm also come of course the songs. Well, I thought that there were too few (for a musical), and that they weren't dynamic enough - that is, for my taste. Moreover, some of the musical moments felt either too superficial and too aestheticised, or not enough. For instance, if you look at the picture above, where the two characters are tap-dancing, it looks quite dynamic... but it wasn't! And I felt quite frustrated, again.
Another thing I didn't like about the aesthetics of the film, was that on one side, the cinemascope and the bright 70s colours gave a nice and nostalgic atmosphere to the film, but they didn't last all film long... and Mia drives a Prius, how un-nostalgic!
Sorry guys, I couldn't find a picture of Mia's car! And yet, it raised another type of argument...
I didn't really like the colours, but had it been used everywhere throughout the film, I think I might have grown to like it more, and at least, it would have been more logical, as in part of the theatrical universe in which the scenes take place. There are a few scenes whose aesthetics I did enjoy very much, but I wish the whole film was based on the same principles! If I watch a musical which is supposed to be a tribute to the genre, I expect to see a lot of singing and dancing - many dancers - in flashy costumes and settings made of cardboard or papier-maché... not a rather normal film with some flashy colours at some point, some singing and/or dancing at another, and cliché settings in yet another scene...
To be honest, I did find some scenes or shot matching my high expectations concerning the aesthetics of the film, but they were almost all gathered in a single scene... ONE - SINGLE - SCENE!!
Vintage shot looking like an old home-made souvenir video
A cliché romantic kiss alone in a tramway with a very aestheticised low-angle point of view
A shadow-puppet-like scene with a kiss with the pin-up leg
Fabulously kitch and colourfoul cardboard settings
And on top of the fact that it is almost the only scene worth watching, it is followed by the end of the film which is... *no spoilers*... well, let's just say that I watched La La Land with my sister and my best friend, and they liked the film better than I did, but none of us enjoyed the end... it was such a disappointment!
So now, about the story... There are a few things I didn't quite understand.
The first thing is: it is a musical and none of the main characters is actually a dancer or a singer. I know that characters in a musical can be anything, but they are performing artists - a jazzman and an actress - so I felt it was just a bit out of place (I know I'm being quite unfair on this one, sorry!).
Then, Mia wants to be an actress, and I must admit that her auditions were baffling! Each time, in one second, she is totally transformed and becomes another person, a character, and you can imagine what's around her, the atmosphere of the scene. Long story short, she IS a good actress. But later in the film, she creates her own one-woman show, but we never see her rehearse or play the thing! How very odd! We only hear the comments of some random students who found it very poor... And yet, a casting director contacts her because she loved the play... And this leads us to her last interview, the one she's supposed to nail, and it didn't move me... at all
Now, to be entirely fair, I guess one of the reasons why the critics (almost) unanimously loved the film and I didn't is because I haven't seen most of the classics it is supposed to be a tribute to, such as Singin' in the Rain, West Side Story and the French Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. I say I love musicals, but I haven't seen many of them yet.
Singin' in the Rain, 1962
West Side Story, 1962
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, 1964
And my only reference for said period is Mary Poppins, quite a different style.
Mary Poppins, 1964
Which is why I can't say that the film is just bad. Only I didn't like it very much, and I wish it matched my ideal of a musical better.
You may have noticed that while talking almost only about the downsides, I only showed you beautiful pictures of the film. This is mainly because pictures are a little hard to come by, since the film is quite recent, but I guess I tried not to discourage you and to hold on myself to the part I found beautiful. And here is another scene (although I couldn't find the pictures I wanted)
I found one trailer which I really like and which, according to me, does not at all show the film as you experience it at all, but rather as I wish it was (the magical powers of a trailer editor...)... a dynamic film, with lively characters and songs, put together by some dynamic editing:
And to conclude, since I am actually very far from being the only person who didn't really like this film, I advise you to read other critics and reviews, such as this one, from which come my two conclusive quotes:
"Hollywood is full of multi-talented, under-employed actors who can sing and dance. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling may be Oscar-nominated heavyweights, but neither were expert in either arena before training for La La Land." (The Telegraph)
"It seems that Chazelle, himself a former jazz drummer, wants us to love not just jazz, but also to love men who love talking about loving jazz." (Anna Silman, New York Magazine)
Tags : musical, USA, #LoveMusicals
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