Guest Review of the film La La Land (2016)


Who would want to be those two PricewaterhouseCoopers employees the morning after the Academy Awards? Apparently it was Brian Cullinen who handed over the wrong envelope, and he is a partner, so perhaps explaining to the other partners was not so awkward as if you were a mere hack, but all the same – not a good look. And just letting cynical Gwen out of the bag for a moment – I wonder if he considered, even if just for a second – how he could off-load responsibility to his colleague, Martha Ruiz (sorry folks, too many years experience in the corporate world, having the guys take credit for your ideas, and quick to point your way when things go wrong . . . I’m putting that Gwen back in the bag now, sorry for the intrusion). Speaking of responsibility though, it seems neither of them jumped out of the wings to correct the mistake.

What would have been a clear mistake, in my humble opinion, was if La La Land won best picture over all the other quality offerings on the table this year. However, the fiasco has given me a timely intro to feature another guest post from CineMuseFilms. So here it is:

LA LA LAND (2016)  – Guest Review

Richard Alaba, CineMuseFilms, Member of the Australian Film Critics Association

It is a great loss to modern cinema that the most escapist of all film genres, the Hollywood-Broadway musical, has been presumed buried for decades. Born in an era of world wars and depression, the musical was the most effective happy pill ever invented. Only in the musical could you find the unbridled eruption of emotion expressed through spontaneous song and dance with scant regard for narrative or dialogue and even less for everyday reality. Closely related to the fantasy genre, the Hollywood musical has resurfaced in modern hybrids but the traditional form exists only in libraries and memories. That is, until you see La La Land (2016).

The opening scenes are a perfect example of old fashioned musical showbiz, driven entirely by spectacle rather than logic. High on a Los Angeles freeway a young woman jumps out of her traffic-jammed car and bursts into song and dance. She is copied by scores of other motorists all gyrating in sync, filmed from above, in a single take.  A boy and a girl make eye contact (not in a nice way) and this is where the story begins. Mia (Emma Stone) spends her days humiliated by repeatedly missing out on auditions for her ‘big chance’ in Hollywood, while Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a surly dreamer who wants to open a jazz club for people who love jazz. It’s not a good start for romance, but a pre-dawn song and dance routine – a la Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – sets them up for love. This is a story about dreamers and the dream factory, carried aloft by music and generously wrapped in nostalgia.

Beneath it all there is a narrative but it feels inconsequential to the music. The bitter-sweet romance is harmonic scaffold for songs and dance that lift you with promises and hopes then land you onto the soft sands of life’s disappointments. The characters of Mia and Sebastian are not developed in great depth because they are avatars for generations of dreamers who have been drawn like moths to fame. Their synergy is palpable.

This film is full of memorable moments. The scene where Sebastian talks passionately about the dynamics of jazz musicianship is captivating; the moonlight walks through the city are surreal; and the final scene against a painfully hesitant piano solo of ‘City of Stars’ will squeeze tears out of anyone – and then make you hum the melody for days.

Great cinematography is not unusual these days but the La La Land camera is like an artist’s brush that composes beautiful portraits against stunning urban landscapes in colour palettes that are richly retro yet modern. This is a film to bathe yourself in, let its exuberance, musicality, and nonsensical scenes of flyaway romance dazzle you. Today’s world needs more la la land.


Director: Damien Chazelle

Stars:       Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt

I’m pretty sure Richard Alaba welcomes alternative views, such as that expressed by Agnes Ashe in her January 19th post “Mutter, mutter, mutter – La La Land“. I recommend you click through to read what she had to say. And the comments also.

Bill and I had just been to see it too, and this was my comment to Agnes :

Ahh interesting. When I saw the title of the post I thought you were going to completely slam the film, but it seems you didn’t walk out saying “there’s two hours of my life I will never get back again🙂 I saw it last week, and went along just expecting it to be light entertainment – which it was. I don’t get why it is winning all the awards, unless, just like in the 1930s, people are looking to suspend belief and “escape” for a couple of hours, and so it is rushing along on a wave of nostalgia. Having said that, I did think the cinematography was good. I was expecting something like the opening scene to continue all the way through the film – spontaneous singing for no logical reason (a bit like Nelson Eddy and Janette McDonald all those decades ago), so was relieved it attempted a story line. I liked the dancing moment and thought it could have done with much more of that. But I TOTALLY agree, the voices were not up to the job. I was immediately put in mind of Mamma Mia with Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep. In the cinema I saw it (La La Land), the opening scene also sounded too far away from the microphones. I thought the cinema might not have its speakers adjusted correctly, but the soundtrack came through okay after that, so perhaps it had something to do with the manner in which it had to be filmed, or voiced-over in the studio later. With all those latent references to Casablanca, I was on edge that the final line was going to be, “Play it Sam” so was doubly relieved that did not happen. Nevertheless, as a piece of light entertainment, I enjoyed it well enough. . . . Curiously, I had just seen Chazelle’s film Whiplash on the TV a few nights before. I would rate that higher; and still feel a knot of tension in my stomach just recalling some of the scenes from that.

Well, what about you? (not you Lord Beari – you’ll have to wait for it to come on TV).

Love it, hate it – or, like me, having a bet each way?

It’s on the IFS programme for 4th June. Unless I am away, I will go along to see it for a second time. Sometimes, you miss things the first time around. But I have a feeling that some of the others in the group, having seen it once, might give it a miss.

As my father was fond of saying, “I am happy if you prove me wrong” (as if we could).

19 thoughts on “Guest Review of the film La La Land (2016)

  1. Pingback: Illawarra Film Society – What We’ve Seen in 2017 | The Reluctant Retiree

  2. Ah Gwen – I was so relieved when it turned out that Moonlight had one Best Picture. By the look on Ryan Gosling’s face it didn’t look like he thought La La Land should have one anyway! So far I haven’t met anyone other than my 15 year old niece who thought it was much of a film. And my musically inclined friends were unimpressed. Have you seen any of the YouTube footage showing Ryan Gosling learning and practising his dancing with a ‘professional’ dance partner? He’s good, but she is, well, a dancer!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve had a quick look for some you-tube clips but keep coming up with lots of talking. I found one where a choreographer was teaching two others who were good dancers. Will have a better look soon. Posture is such a big element isn’t it? And Ryan sure has the right shape to make it look good!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Agnes, I just had another dig around on you-tube. Found lots of talk show interviews which cut to the dancing, and some that taught others how to do the dance moves, but not Ryan specifically. But from what I saw, it re-inforced my initial reaction. Performing the steps is one thing, but unless you have that posture (and preferably an androgenous body shape), then you cannot pull of the elegance of the routines.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed your reviews Gwen and Agnes; its thorough, heart-felt, and full of detailed explanation of why the film did not measure up to your expectations. Its interesting how big the backlash against this film became by the time of the Oscars. When I reviewed it in early December, the first wave of adulation was just hitting our shores. With a string of early accolades, La La was soon on a rollercoaster.
    From my perspective, it is far from being a masterpiece. When deconstructed, there are several cinematic elements that are merely good, not even very good. But as a homage to a forgotten genre, it is packaged brilliantly with its vibrant feel-good toe-tapping heart-sob-with-uplift mix that connects with most viewers. The narrative is in the background as they were in classic musicals, with just the right touch of fantasy to complement the original musical score (plus a couple of ear-worms that refuse to go away). La La Land is the perfect example of how the whole can be much more than the sum of its individual parts. Films rise and fall with the mood of the times and the glum global picture makes La La one big happy pill.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading my little rant. I wrote as I saw and felt. I had stuffed my fingers in my ears and covered my eyes so as not to be persuaded one way or the other before I saw it during the opening weekend here in the UK. And, I was so hopeful I would love it, but alas it wasn’t even toe-tapping for me. I have a feeling that once all the brouhaha as died down that this isn’t going to be a film with much staying power beyond the hardcore Gosling fans, and, in my case even as such a fan, I doubt I’ll sit through it again. Still it would be such a boring world if we all thought alike. Always good to read a counter viewpoint.

      Liked by 2 people

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