La La Land — 5/10

LA LA LAND (2016, Damien Chazelle)

Entering this conversation very late and with very little of interest to say. There are some nice touches throughout that keep this watchable and dynamic: Gosling is quite good despite his mediocre dancing and singing — he’s really in it for his comic timing (watch that flinch reaction when he sees his sister in his apartment when he gets home) and puppy-dog sympathy when things don’t go his way. Stone is fierce in the audition scenes and giddy in musical numbers, though her chemistry with Gosling was sharper in both CRAZY STUPID LOVE (really good) and GANGSTER SQUAD (really bad). It seems now this regular pairing is just coasting on already-established good will.

But this is a film about aspiring artists, and its message is both trite and uninspiring. We’ve seen a million times a story about a guy stuck doing something he hates until he achieves his dream, and this goes nowhere we don’t expect. Sebastian even gets a chance to learn something new: John Legend has a great speech to him mid-film about how you need to tailor your skills to the needs of the marketplace. About how “jazz is dying because of people like you” who are ignoring a younger generation in favor of old traditionalists. A nice point to make, but Chazelle disagrees with it!

So instead, he makes a movie designed to do nothing but nod to older movies and tell us how good they were. Yeah, some of them were good. But aren’t I supposed to be watching a good one now? Why not make this one good too? Instead, the camera work in the musical numbers is boring, sloppy, and haphazard. Even the long take on the freeway (why is Stone going from the 105 to the 110 in the morning if she lives with her girlfriends in Hollywood?) feels weighed down by molasses instead of gliding on air. The house party pool scene has murky underwater photography before drunkenly settling on phony fireworks. Artifice is a theme of the film (in Los Angeles, everything is fake!) but if the emotions in the movie are supposed to be real, then why not make us feel something?

There are so many blunders that they had to be intentional: the sequence where Stone and Gosling walk the studio lot on a “first date” is in sync for the close-ups but the wide masters are hopelessly out of sync; like they were ADR’d on purpose. It doesn’t even come close to matching. There’s a hair in the gate in a simple quick shot of Gosling sitting on a bed that could easily have been noticed and touched up. (Doubt this was a projection issue because it disappeared on a cut, plus it was a DCP). Glad that Chazelle shot on 35mm film, but come on, Oscar-nominated DP. Check the gate. I can only imagine all of these things were left in to contribute to the theme of artifice, meta-knowledge, and peering behind the curtain. But it’s also a really convenient excuse.

It’s not enough to tell us that you liked THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG or SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN or ALL THAT JAZZ. And in what amounts to the single lamest THE CONFORMIST homage in film history, we get a low-angle shot of about four leaves dribbling towards Stone’s feet, reminding us that there is an entire wealth of cinematic classics we could be watching instead of this bland, forgettable, occasionally agreeable, but slight exercise in ripping off better movies.

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