Friday, 17 February 2017

La La Land

The opening scene of La La Land presents a "spontaneous" outbreak of dancing in a traffic jam on a freeway in Los Angeles. I think it, like the whole film, is supposed to subvert the romance of the original Hollywood musicals, by placing song-and-dance sequences in the midst of grim contemporary reality - in this case a tailback. It succeeds in a way. That is, it does subvert the romance of the original Hollywood musicals, but only by placing a lousy, jerky, wooden, witless song-and-dance routine in the spot that would once have been occupied by a radiant, witty, delightful song-and-dance routine.

Witnessing it sent my spirits plummeting and, although that was two days ago, they haven't recovered.

I suppose the opening scene does perform one important function - it introduces the main characters. It does quite a good job too, in the sense that it doesn't try to trick anyone - it presents them as pretty charmless right from the get go.

But this brings up another problem with the film, and it is a big problem: namely that it is not much fun spending two hours or more following the story of two individuals who are not charming or witty or even very interesting.

Sure both characters have quests - the female's is to become a movie star, (cue failed audition after failed audition, accompanied by all the usual misery and tears); the male's is to reopen a Los Angeles jazz bar that has fallen on hard times - well, good for him, I'm glad he has a "passion", but why precisely should I care? Neither of these quests have any obvious implications for the lives of others - there is no family of Cratchits dependent on the success or failure of either, nothing beyond the individual ambition of each. Perhaps this wouldn't matter so much except that the director demonstrates a rare and not, I imagine, particularly bankable talent - he eradicates every vestige and trace of the charisma these two normally reasonably charismatic stars bring to the screen.

Things do look up very briefly when Gosling's character 'sells out'. For one scene, the screen comes alive with dancing and singing that is full of energy. Stupidly, I got quite excited at this moment; I thought the film might actually take off at last. As an argument reveals that Gosling has chained himself legally to this outfit for years and years, I thought, "Goodie, goodie, now we are getting somewhere. We will get a lot more of this riotous, lively band." Mysteriously though, in the very next scene all the fun guys vanish, never to be seen again. They join a long line of unexplained disappearances - the female lead's flatmates, her boyfriend, her parents and the male lead's sister (who does eventually bob up again at her own wedding, which I think must have been inserted for diversity reasons, as she marries a "person of colour" and there is absolutely no other indication of why this event is levered into the film.)

La La Land is supposedly modelled on Singing in the Rain, but I think this must only be in the sense that it wants to demonstrate its disapproval of the essential frivolity of the earlier movie. In La La Land there is no such thing as a fairy tale ending - or indeed, any kind of fairy tale. That is just Hollywood baloney, says the film about Hollywood. To make absolutely certain we get this point, the film doesn't even create sexual tension between the two main characters. Instead of feeling thrilled or frustrated watching them progress through the various stages of their relationship, all I felt was a dull longing to be allowed to go home.

Oh lord it was horrible. Should I point out that Ryan Gosling plays a piece of music over and over again that is supposed to be jazz but isn't? Or that when the female lead stands in a pale blue jumper, hands hanging down by her side and sings about her aunt who jumped in the Seine, it is one of the most intolerably mawkish moments in the history of cinema? Or that the whole scene inside the planetarium at night, (and, like so much else, no explanation was offered of how they could get in there other than "It's a musical, so magic"), was an unspeakable embarrassment?

No, I will confine myself to the absolute clincher, which is that this is a musical without a single memorable song. I defy anyone who has seen La La Land to hum a single melody from it, let alone remember a whole number. That is not a musical; that is a failure.


  1. On the way home yesterday, I stopped by Idle Time Books on 18th St. I noticed on one of the carts outside a book, presumably a novel, with the title I Believe in La-La Land. It sounds as if the folks who manage the British Academy Film Awards do too.

    I didn't think the movie was that bad. The voices were thin and often nearly inaudible. The dancing is not going to make anyone remember, let alone forget, Astaire and Rogers or Kelly and Reynolds. But if you are not looking for deep meaning, or are sufficiently committed to the Hollywood myth to think you find it there, La-La Land is not a bad way to kill a couple of hours. Yes, Emma Stone's last song is pretty silly. No, Ryan Gosling's last piano piece isn't jazz. But much of it is handsomely filmed.

    1. I think musicals have been made that are so perfect they are masterpieces; this is lame and is piggybacking on a nostalgia for those true gems, hoping to achieve the same success, without the same hard work and inspiration. It is storytelling by numbers. Really though the fact that none of the three of us who went to see the film could hum a single tune from it - and no one else I've met who has seen the film can either is such a bad sign. I think it is a really worthless film