La La Land (2016) ⭐⭐⭐

Its gorgeous, well made and charming, but for a film about a pair of dreamers its aspirations are oddly low. 

 

Directed by Damien Chazelle

 

A camera pans along a congested highway, and slowly everyone gets out and bursts out in song. The joy! The fun! Its purely whimsical but is it really that original? This is a good throwback to old school musicals, but one that doesn’t add anything new to the genre, and suffers from some problematic characterization and a forced ‘follow your dreams’ message.

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The story follows Mia and Sebastian, an aspiring actress and jazz musician who fall in love and struggle to follow their dreams. Its an overwhelmingly simple premise that works both for and against the film. And for the most part, what you see from the trailer is exactly what you get. Nothing more nothing less. The characters struggle with letting go of nostalgia, and the same can ironically be said for the by-the-numbers aspirations of La La Land.

Its absolutely beautiful to look at, and Gosling and Stone have terrific chemistry. But that’s just about the only saving grace to this otherwise bare bones story, with some strangely repetitive music pieces. Don’t get me wrong, it has its moments, and “City of Stars” is a wonderful song, but those moments are far and few between. For a story about struggling artists, the ‘struggle’ never really comes through. Both Gosling and Stone already look like ready made stars, but most problematic of all is that neither really show off their supposedly talent. Mia essentially gets one hell of a lucky stroke, and an unbelievable opportunity just lumped at her. Sure, it drives home the message of following your dreams but it doesn’t feel earned. And the final act, though executed well feels like a compromise between a fantasy outcome with some forced bittersweet drama. Sure its sweet on the outside, but dig a little deeper and the movie comes up short. We never really get to know either Mia or Sebastian, and the film never goes deeper than their pedestrian meet cute relationship.

Coming from the cinematic highs of Whiplash, La La Land feels both underwhelming and safe, and one of the bigger disappointments of 2016. That doesn’t make it bad though. Those looking for something simpler and more whimsical, this should be right up your alley.

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