“I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired. Then I’ll hit back. It’s a classic rope-a-dope.” – Sebastian, La La Land (2016).
You know when you’re so confident about a film you haven’t seen that you vouch for its brilliance? Well, for me that film was La La Land. A multiple Oscar winner with an all star cast and an apparently brilliant soundtrack. That was my opinion before watching it. To say I’m annoyed is, well, it’s an understatement. There aren’t many films that genuinely piss me off to the point where I do hate them, but somehow it happens every now and then. You know what I’m talking about. There’s so bad it’s good, and then there is shit like this. I’d like to preface this review with a disclaimer. The music in this film is mostly jazz related, and I really like jazz music. You wouldn’t think that after reading this.
La La Land was pretty much the one film of 2016 that I actually wanted to watch. A visionary artistic experience that seemed both competent in direction and colourful in cinematography. While both are correct, it doesn’t necessarily make a good film. Both cinematography and direction go hand in hand, so when one falters, so does the other. Although colourful and quite impressive in that regard, you look a bit closer and realise that’s it. What does this colour add to the film? I dunno, but critics love the use of colour, better use a lot of it to distract from the fact we don’t have an actual plot.
Now, when I say they don’t have an actual plot, I really do mean it. In the same vein as The Break Up (2006), the film follows two individuals who have a relationship for a bit and then don’t. Now my main question is why I should care for these characters. Usually I have no problem slipping into the story, but with La La Land everything just felt so forced, there was no natural progression. Emma Stone plays an aspiring actress. Alright, why should I care? Give me a reason, not another fucking musical number inspired by that of Far Far Away Idol (2004). Where there should be reasons for me to care, there are instead a numerous number of stereotypical annoying side characters that prevent our main stars from aspiring to their dreams and ambitions.
See, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are phenomenal actors. I know this for a fact, as is J.K. Simmons (who thankfully gets away with a very minor, almost cameo role) and the rest of the cast aren’t half bad either. While normally they are great actors, it is in fact the characters they play that I have the problem with. Again, it’s the same problem I had with the music of this film. I was more than open to enjoying the performances, but by the end of it was left hating every second of it. Honestly the only reason I can think for this is that the writing isn’t that good, which is very true. The writing is bad, it’s cliched, boring and doesn’t build on the lacking plot or the almost invisible character development.
Guaranteed, chemistry is the main factor of the two main characters in this film, so you may be surprised to learn that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone really don’t work that well. I never fully bought into their relationship or either of their characters. If anything I felt alienated. One of the biggest problems La La Land suffers from is that it hits the most obvious and used cliches in the book and doesn’t expect anyone to notice.
My character development should not be that I want to see this person succeed. That’s all well and good as a driving narrative, but it’s not a character trait. Why should I care that Gosling wants to open up his own Jazz coffee shop catastrophe thing? Well, because he’s the main character obviously. Whereas films like Birdman (2014) spend time building their characters and their emotions, La La Land simply expects us to roll with the punches for no reason other than “do it”.
Birdman gives an overarching tone of fear. If Keaton’s character doesn’t pull his play off, then this is the end of his career. What losses do the characters in La La Land feel if they don’t manage their dreams? Who knows, we’re never told or shown the consequences. Even when the characters eventually separate they manage to aspire to their dreams in a short and stupid five year cut into the future.
The key part of a musical is, of course, the music. At first I thought I was really enjoying it, but I was on the fence by the end of the film. So to get a final verdict, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack while writing this. No, the music in this film is not good. My head hurts, I turned it off after hearing City of Stars for the second time, but a different version, somehow longer.
Now I’m sat in silence, I tried listening to The Human League and a bit of Blue Monday to improve my pallet, but there’s no coming back from that shit. At this point it’s too late for me, the music is subpar at best. Maybe that’s because I’m an 80s music fan, but to that end, I love Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), Les Miserables (2011) and even Mamma Mia! (2008). So no, it’s not me, it’s just the really bad soundtrack.
One of the songs that stuck out for me was Another Day of Sun. At first I really did like it, I thought it was a decent track. By the end of that song, I really did hate it. Despise isn’t the word, vehemently hate maybe? Abhorrently shit is how I’m going to describe it. If anything though, the music does highlight the further talent of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. For the most part they can genuinely sing rather well, and that’s nice to see. The direction of these musical numbers is superb, I’ll give it that, but that means nothing if the songs aren’t any good.
With these scenes I would have been better off muting the television and just looking at how well the camera angles are used sometimes. There are three eighties songs used in this film, all of which are infinitely better than the original scores. Some of the unique music in this film reminds me of John Williams’ score for Schindler’s List (1993). Presumably not the intended effect.
Within the first twenty minutes of this film, you have seen and heard every unique part. The remaining hour and forty minutes is nothing but filler or repeating what we have already seen. Nothing about this hour and forty minutes has any value, unless you enjoyed the plot, which failed to interest me in the slightest. Other than Emma Stone forcing Ryan Reynolds to play “I Ran” on a keyboard guitar and that tap dancing sequence, there’s nothing dreamy about La La Land. God that should’ve been my closing line for this review. See that’s good writing.
I wrote one line in my notes, which reads as follows. “It feels like it’s trying to be Whiplash (2014)” By that I of course mean a heavy utilisation of music. Turns out that isn’t a coincidence, same director for both. But what I loved about Whiplash is never present in La La Land. A homage to that of the 40s romance genre is one thing, but there’s a whole new level to fucking about with the formula.
In that regard, there’s nothing that La La Land can actually do to break away from the stereotypically drab performances or plot. What is my reason for caring for these characters? This is a genuine question to you, the reader. Please, contact me and tell me why I should care for these characters. This is a cry for help at this point. They aren’t together by the end of the film, so all that build up of their relationship is literally for nothing. I’ve sat through two hours of literally nothing.
To give credit where credit is due, I was expecting a typical romance story, which would have been heartwarming yet cliche. Instead I received a rather upsetting ending that confirmed my obnoxious annoyances with this film to be more than superstition. It’s shit, plain and simple. A film failing to capture your attention is a shame, but it becomes a genuine annoyance when they keep winking at the camera and subtly going “do you get it?”. Yeah, I get it, it’s just that it makes no sense given the current context. La La Land is not a smart film, it’s a film that so truly believes itself to be a beautifully adept creation that it manages to convince everyone else as well.
Part musical, part drama, part comedy, wholly shit, La La Land juggles so many different plots and character arcs that it doesn’t know what to do with any of it. Instead of focusing itself and narrowing down one specific story, it decides to spread everything all over the place and shrug it’s shoulders. The more I thought about this film, and the more of it I watched, the more I realised I truly despise it. What it lacks in plot, direction, characters, acting and music, it makes up for in fancy colours and decent camera angles. Other than that, there’s really nothing in this. There’s no other way of describing this film than by swearing about it. So, to that end, La La Land made me want to fucking drown myself while listening to anything that wasn’t the piece of shit soundtrack.