I went and saw La La Land the other day, and I wanted to celebrate this Golden Globe winner (7 of them) as well as pose questions concerning some of the directorial choices. My son tells me that even my casual writing comes out like a “bogus scholarly article,’ so I will not brainstorm, organize, outline, or edit this. One sitting. Just freestyling!
I had mixed feelings all through the experience, though I will say that overall I felt uplifted and moved. The dialogue and story line worked in a general way, and I especially liked the two lead characters, Ryan Gosling playing the frustrated jazz pianist and Emma Stone, the young actress trying to make it in Hollywood. There were performance moments that actually bordered on brilliance, mostly through Stone, when trying out for different shows in different voices, only to be interrupted by directors and sound stage gophers who couldn’t have given a damn about her endeavor. First level, the “acting” was delivered as delicately proficient, and you couldn’t help but think someone within the story had to notice how good she was. Second level, when “interrupted,” Stone ever so achingly came out of “character” to show the dawning and repeated disappointment experienced by her base character, her eyes and her expression evolving with perfect timing and agony. Our hearts ached.
Gosling was interesting as well, and one could feel his muted anguish as he was forced to sell out again and again. The chemistry between Stone and Gosling worked for the most part, believable enough, some mild sparks, but the only time your heart really broke for them (or raced) was the break-up dinner scene, where Stone’s facial expressions, subtle yet intensive, stole the scene (similar to the auditions).
I also liked the ending. Not to play spoiler, there was some time displacement – fantasy threading that was shot incredibly well by writer/director Damien Chazelle, and I don’t think the “real” conclusion could have gone any other way.
On the flip side of the coin, besides the jazz performance scenes, the music was disappointing. There was a major lacking of build-up and climax, and most of the numbers were forgettable. I suppose subtlety was a theme here, and it seems the “low key” feeling throughout the piece was at least consistent, starting with said songs and affecting the mood and general movement of the action.
The problem was balance. I like Emma Stone, and I will probably hear a lot of shit about this, but I would argue that here she was miscast. First, in terms of superficial appeal, she presented as too thin, almost juvenile. While this particular actress has one of the most beautiful faces on the planet, her clothes literally hung off her, and when the background players, like her roommates, came off more appealing, something certainly felt wrong.
Moreover, Emma Stone can’t dance. While the musical numbers (again, aside from the jazz performance scenes) were rather luke-warm, we can almost chalk that up to the aforementioned theme of “cool” and more critically, the possibility that Chazelle was making a purposeful move away from the old style Broadway numbers that came off hyperbolic and melodramatic. Still, there was an attempt to celebrate “throwback,” the “old days,” not only in the dance styles favoring the likes of Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, and Debbie Reynolds, but the breath-taking sets and lighting. The importance of dexterity and complex composition “back in the day” is even delivered to us in straight exposition, as Gosling’s character voices over and again his desire to keep Jazz the way it was in its technical daring and improvisational brilliance.
Why then does Emma Stone fail to absolutely knock it out of the park during her routines with Gosling? The dance steps literally look like something out of a middle school ensemble, and I was amazed at how very unprofessional and simplistic it played…especially when Gosling’s piano chops are so agile and skillful people are still talking about it on Google, questioning whether the film makers somehow used a body double (they didn’t; it was Gosling).
My vote would have been to cast Julianne Hough in the lead role instead of Emma Stone. The former showed us that she could sing (way better than Stone) in the parody Rock of Ages, and has provided us unconditional proof of her dancing ability, not only in Ages, but on Dancing With the Stars. And though she looked a tad matronly with her hair back as a judge this season, I’ll bet at age 28, she would have been absolutely dazzling in La La Land.
Altogether, I enjoyed this movie. I wanted both characters to win, and I especially related to the tragic beauty of chasing dreams, as so depicted. Unfortunately, with some of the aspects played on the “down low,” it came off “so-so” in keys places.