In a subtle dig at Los Angeles, and possibly contemporary society in general, La La Land suggested that the denizens of the modern world “worship everything and.. value nothing”. Given that we live in a world which appears to consider the Matcha Latte or cooking with Coconut Oil necessary to its very survival, I had to admire the insightful observation. But in satirising a Samba and Tapas bar for trying to cater to whims and not sticking to one thing and doing it right, I felt the movie came dangerously close to unearthing its own major weakness. In trying to be a musical, a romantic comedy and a nostalgic look at movies through the ages, my personal opinion was the film slightly over-extended itself. Its 14 Oscar nominations suggest that I am in a minority of one in my more critical appraisal.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a movie without strengths – far from it. Its ability to be modern yet still nostalgic was admirable, and in ways it managed to answer one of its own big questions. “How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future.” This was the movie equivalent of the Jazz debate – a film that wanted to be both revolutionary, yet traditional. A movie striving to embrace cinematic triumphs of the past but remain very much of its own time – and to be fair there was obvious successes, with the movie justifiably achieving critical acclaim.
It is also a beautiful movie – opening as a traditional musical (with a completely over the top but fabulously choreographed chorus scene on a freeway) and sidestepping into a dramatic rom-com at intervals. The score was well-written and the music largely upbeat and catchy. The costuming had a beautiful retro-feel and the cinematography was exquisite throughout – especially for LA lovers. Although the singing and dancing was definitely not flawless, there was something endearing about that, and both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are engaging actors who have a girl/boy next door likability. He has the cheeky twinkle in his eye, she is all under-stated beauty and affable charm. So what was the problem?
For most viewers, it would appear nothing. But for me – well I will try to explain. This was ostensibly a bittersweet love story where romance and ambition are placed on a collision course and the decisions made will change the trajectory of both characters’ lives. Classic themes – universal and engaging. Both hero and heroine reciprocate the notion that “I am always gonna love you” – but with very different dreams, can such noble sentiment translate into a future? The problem with this film was that I didn’t care. I love, love, love romance in my movies but I really didn’t care. I didn’t believe enough in either Mia’s acting dreams or Seb’s unending love for her. The story of her big break was unconvincing, the veracity of his love no different. Personally, I felt between channelling nostalgia for old Hollywood, breaking randomly into song or waltzing around LA; the movie lost the plot a little – and for me, when the film loses sight, even just a little, of the story it is trying to tell, then it loses just a little of where its heart and soul should be.
This was a lovely way to while away a couple of hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon – but a record number of Oscar nominations??? Sorry guys, I just don’t quite get it.