Tue 10 Jan 2017
The buzz is high, the prizes started to accumulate. They tell however more about the status of the industry and the longing of the public for escapist entertainment combined with a high dose of nostalgia for the musical successes that were running high 60 or 70 years ago. La La Land directed by Damien Chazelle combines a well known formula, makes reverences to the golden period of the musical films in Hollywood (some scenes were filmed in the studio were Fred Astaire once was filmed) but also to some more modern film makers and their ideas (like Ki-duk Kim), and enjoys the participation of shining stars like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It may be sufficient for collecting statuettes. It is not enough to make it a real good film. I know I am in a minority expressing this opinion now. I believe that it will be a growing minority soon.
What we get with La La Land a collection of a few wonderful moments connected by an awfully schematic story. Boy meets girl, of course. Boy is an aspiring jazz musician in a time when real jazz seems to be in a descending slope of interest, Girl is an aspiring actress, waiting in a Starbucks (or like) coffee shop and auditioning in a serial and desperate manner. They both have visions and passion. They both aspire to careers, but life is tough and art and success seldom meet for one person and almost never with personal happiness. Or true love. From here on the story accumulates many of the possible stereotypes and too little artistic truth. Great scenes are not missing – actually this film has a number of memorable quotes, the problem is the rosy sweet materials on between. There is also one great idea that I liked – who does it belong to? script writers or director – the non-reality scenes are drawn in music and dance. The ones from the films in the 40s and 50s.
When jazz is played however, it’s different. Jazz music is also about being true, great jazzmen do not lie when they play music. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) explaining to Mia (Emma Stone) what jazz is about is one of the best scenes I have ever seen about jazz. The problem is that this is not a jazz movie. As much as I love Ryan Gosling and appreciate Emma Stone their chemistry on screen is not enough to sustain the film, and it actually makes their breaking (and the break away scene) even less credible.
Just to be clear – La La Land is not a bad movie. Damien Chazelle is at his third film, the two other were also one way or the other related to music. Whiplash was welcome with ravishing critics and a very high IMDB rating. La La Land however belongs to a very different category. In the thin air of the ideas and good cinema of the last years it will get a lot of prizes in the next couple of months. Many of them are not deserved. I write this by respect for what the film is (and is not) and for what the Academy, BAFTA, or Golden Globe awards should be. I am expecting more and better films about music from Damien Chazelle. Maybe a great jazz movie.