La La Land

It would be tempting to write that La La Land is an attempt to revive the musical as a thing in Hollywood.  But I think that would be a mistake.  It is only being released in art house theaters so I doubt that it will do the box office it needs to revive a moribund genre.  The other extreme would be to label it as a stunt, a trick to drum up sales and attention from the Academy.  Somewhere in there is the truth.

Mia, played by Emma Stone is an aspiring actress whose day job is as a barista in a coffee shop on a movie lot.  This allows her to go on auditions during breaks and lunches.  It is a long and often humiliating process but she’s determined to be a movie star like in her favorite old movies.  Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling is a pianist, working multiple gigs to get by and to save money to open a jazz club where he can play the pure improvisational jazz he loves but which is out of fashion.  They run into each other several times and after a rocky start they begin a relationship.

Can these two crazy kids make it in a cold indifferent world?

The film starts out as the kind of musical set in a world where people just break into fully orchestrated songs every once in a while.   The beginning of the film is a pretty inventive dance routine with people stuck in a traffic jam, getting out and dancing around and on top of their cars.  These were professional dancers and singers.  Alas, that is the last time we hear from them.

First of all the songs are not very memorable.  They are clumped together, with long stretches in the middle of no music.  You can almost forget it’s a musical.  And many of the songs that are there feel tacked on.  They aren’t integrated into the plot very well.  It’s like, “We’re making a musical; here’s a song!”

But the biggest flaw is that the two leads can’t sing and are only marginal dancers.  This really surprised me in the case of Gosling who I understand was a Mouseketeer when he was a kid.  I thought they were trained to sing and dance from an early age.  But his singing voice is thin and consistently off key and his dancing is slow and laborious as if he has to think about every move he’s making.  And it’s the same with Emma Stone.  As I’ve said before: there are people in this world who can sing, dance and act.  If you’re making a musical why not cast them?  I know the studios often want established stars in the leads, but you can dub in a real singer’s voice or at least use auto-tune.

There’s a problem with the tone of the film.  The musical part simply isn’t good enough to work, but the plot is so simple and straightforward—there are hardly any twists—that it wouldn’t work as a regular story.  I kind of like the theme that chasing your dreams is a wonderful thing but there are sacrifices and compromises that have to be made while doing it.  But the filmmakers can’t decide if they want to make A Star is Born or an Andy Hardy movie.

Part of the problem is a lack of expertise.  Back in the thirties, forties and fifties when it seemed every other movie was a musical, there were battalions of stars in Hollywood who could pull off all three phases.  There were also plenty of songwriters, choreographers, and directors who knew the genre intimately and making a musical was a matter of making a few phone calls.  Nowadays the process has to be reverse engineered and the results are hit and miss.

La La Land is a miss and definitely a stunt.


2 Responses to “La La Land”

  1. 1 Keepin Mahprivacy February 8, 2017 at 5:34 am

    They did use auto-tune in this movie, but I can’t comment on whether they used it much for Gosling or Stone because as soon as I heard it, 11 minutes into the movie in the second musical number, I just turned it off.

  2. 2 theotherebert February 8, 2017 at 11:50 am

    It sure didn’t sound like they used it for Gosling and Stone.

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