12A – 128mins – 2017
Expectation can be a cruel bastard. My girlfriend and I – both fans of musicals having recently seen both Thriller Live on tour and Matilda in the West End – had been greatly anticipating the opportunity to finally see the box office behemoth and awards-contender that is La La Land. Everyone has already seen it, and it seems, loved it. Alas, my car broke down on the way to the cinema some weeks ago, meaning our thirst had to wait to be sated until last weekend.
Friends adored it enough to return for multiple big screen viewings, critics lauded it a masterpiece and heavyweight nominations keep accumulating (UPDATE: it was pipped to the Best Picture Oscar last night by Moonlight – but even that moment was not without controversy). Sure, there has been something of a ‘backlash’ from a resentful minority (and, some theorize, the media), but I tuned out the hate and carried on regardless…
However, our pent-up excitement quickly dissipated into disappointment when hot-right-now helmer Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash follow-up started to play before our eyes. La La Land is unquestionably consummately choreographed, expertly devised and executed with a panache correlating to razz-ma-tazz, but this bloated, contemporary-set but nostalgia-flavoured love letter to passion and creativity (not to mention an indictment of the Hollywood system) is also an awkward culture clash which screamed “forced” and “false” to me.
As Crazy, Stupid, Love co-stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling share their dreams (her to be an actress with her own one-woman show, he a musician desperate to open an authentic jazz bar) and fall in love as the seasons pass, they wear braces and frocks, tap dance in the street and watch black and white movies on film reels at the picture house. Meanwhile, they drive 21st century cars, watch clips on YouTube and use mobile phones – but only when it suits the plot. On at least two occasions I was audibly fuming that drama was created due to the character’s bizarre incapability to phone ahead when plans change! This felt hideously rude and implausible, all for the sake of contriving tension.
Perhaps because my girlfriend and I were aware of how long the film was (eight minutes north of two hours), La La Land also felt excruciatingly slow, with the various song and dance numbers feeling like showy, insincere padding rather than emotionally-charged accompaniments to the story. On the subject of sincerity, there is a period of about 15minutes two-thirds through the film where Gosling’s pianist, Sebastian, returns from tour to surprise Stone’s Mia with dinner. With the reunion dissolving into a teary argument about sacrificing your dreams for income (“growing up,” Sebastian calls it), the film finally felt like it was mining heartfelt and relatable themes which truly resonated with me.
Was I actually starting to ‘get’ the hype? Was I finally invested? Yes, I was…. Until the climax, which demoted my belatedly accumulating appreciation back down to frustrated all over again. Without veering too far into spoilers, La La Land gallops forward at a key moment in the romance, only to extinguish any hopes of a traditional happy ending. It closely mirrors the story pattern of Woody Allen’s latest Café Society, which I considered brave for executing the same move, but La La Land doesn’t merely settle for bittersweet but taunts us with an overblown ‘what if?’ medley which left a seriously sour taste in my mouth – snatching away the hope it had flamboyantly thrust in our faces.
I was in need of a last-minute up-swing, and La La Land did not deliver it. I sorely wish it had, for my girlfriend and I were legitimately confounded by what we had watched. I have read a fair amount of praise for the film since its cinema release started Stateside at the tail end of last year, and am mortified that whatever enraptured the majority passed us by. Feel free to enlighten me in the comments section below, and rub it in my clueless face if Chazelle does end up bagging the “Best Picture” Oscar on Sunday evening! (UPDATE: it did… not. What an embarrassing cock-up that was!)
CR@B’s Claw Score: