In this age of postmodernism, filmmakers are always willing to go back to the well and make films which are heavy on pastiche from an earlier Hollywood – these tributes are very hit-or-miss. Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is a strange film that succeeds at its recreations, but fails at everything else.
La La Land is, at its core, inspired by the works of three people: Jacques Demy, Gene Kelly and Douglas Sirk. As a result, the musical sequences which appear throughout are to die for. Composer Justin Hurwitz’s musical sensibilities are on full display in these sequences, as the songs have a habit of removing the audience from the immediate situation – like a good music segment should. Add in the choreography of Emmy-nominated Mandy Moore (not that one) and the cinematography of Linus Sandgren (American Hustle) and it becomes obvious that this could have been a perfect film if it stayed in the world of fantasy.
Unfortunately, the film is longer than the twenty-or-thirty minutes engulfed in music. There is a certain sort of Hollywood conventionalism that runs throughout the rest of the film that begins to wear out its welcome early into the second act.
There is a sense of nostalgia for the 1950s that goes beyond simple pastiche. Despite the name brand product placements of modern products, large parts of the film are taken up by actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone talking about jazz and classic cinema, about how objectively great it was then, and inadvertently taking a political position (it is easy to be nostalgic for the 1950s, if you are a white American). There is a divide between the fantastic musical sequences and the realistic regular sequences, and yet in the regular sequences, white Hollywood conventions are freely available (Ryan Gosling is a broke musician but he regularly cavorts around in suits). Even though both characters are poor, they have nothing standing in their ways – everything ultimately works out for them. And speaking of Gosling, how is his character supposed to be likeable? He is borderline abusive for long segments, while Stone simply takes his abuse, while standing there and looking pretty.
La La Land can be beautiful and the musical sequences certainly make it worth watching, but Damien Chazelle’s out of touch and problematic political commentary makes the movie frustrating. Waiting for the film’s blu-ray release might not be a bad idea – you’ll at least have the opportunity to skip chapters.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam