At this point in time I feel less inclined than ever to write about the big ‘award season’ contenders this year, of which La La Land is one of the most celebrated frontrunners (I’m writing this after it hoovered-up at the Golden Globes but before the next big circle jerk takes place). However, it has been interesting to see blanket praise in the US countered by a degree of wearying cynicism in the wake of La La Land’s global release; several prominent writers and less-well-known bloggers whose opinions I enjoy reading (and most definitely respect) have been rather sniffy and intriguingly resistant with regard to the film’s charms, with valid questions raised about certain aspects of the storytelling and more. I love a backlash, particularly when a film is being treated like a sacred cow after only a week or two in theatres, but I’m sorry to report that in this particular case I loved (nearly) all of it: those distracting bright colours, the loose choreography of its earlier song-n-dance routines, the way it’s so obvious with its nods to Old Hollywood, the bittersweet moments, its two standout, tender, wistful songs and even those limited, brief, barely-synchronised dance routines featuring both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. I also thought it was often very funny, particularly when its two stars were tasked with behaving like goofy musical stars of yore (for example the post-party sunset routine they have on the bench, overlooking LA, which unfortunately dissolves into a rather flat tap number in which the soundtrack seems to have been turned up to drown out the shoe percussion). Stone and Gosling share evident chemistry and are charismatic in wildly different ways, which suits the subject matter perfectly: she is bright and breezy and you want her character Mia to be successful, while he is the sad, petty, mansplaining, jazzsplaining, sombre, heavy-eyed counterpoint, whose quest for authenticity is more pronounced and therefore more open to ridicule, though you could say it does allow the writer-director’s own voice to come through more strongly.
The film is equal parts miserably relentless, tentatively hopeful, brilliantly effervescent and quietly resigned, just like the four seasons it uses for its structure, and even though it’s basically selling a lie it’s no hardship to sit back and let Chazelle and co flog it to you one more time, with (at least a certain degree of) feeling; I’ve tired of Hollywood’s endless celebrating of itself in the past, but I have to admit I can turn a blind eye (and even enjoy myself) when it’s trying to entertain you as hard as it does in this film, and though it’s easy to be cynical about the success of the characters in terms of achieving their goals, it is at least delivered with a welcome underlaying note of sadness. Considering that no other characters beyond those portrayed by the two leads are developed in any meaningful way, and that the film’s running time extends beyond two hours, Gosling and Stone do a terrific job. I thought it lived up to the hype. (*****)