I’ve just seen “La La Land” – a little late, but there you go. I admit that what follows is influenced by a reaction to the level of hype the film has received, and also to the director’s previous film, “Whiplash”, which was also hyped to the heavens, and which … well, it’s possibly the only film I can say I hated. But that’s another story.
So to “La La Land”. It’s a nice little film. Brightly coloured chewing gum for the eyes. The Production Design/Art Direction is certainly Oscar-worthy. Otherwise – in my opinion - it tries hard, but it’s not really there. The story is underdeveloped and clichéd. The two main characters are woefully underwritten. It’s an homage to the great Hollywood Musicals, but doesn’t come close to them in any way. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone do their best, but they’re not given much to work with. They bravely dance and sing; but they’re clearly not dancers or singers. The choreography is basic at best, and the filming of the dance lacks any impact - shot as if the performers were Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, or Gene Kelly, but, with the best will in the world, all I can say is that the dance is really very good for a High School play.
There are two moments I think are worthy of the fuss: the first is the coup de theatre when Sebastian plays on stage with his friend’s band. Starting with two musicians in moody spotlights, suddenly the lights come on to the widescreen eighties. It’s a lovely reversal of expectation. And the other moment is that final look between Sebastian and Mia, right at the end of the film. All close up. No glitz.
But really, with nods in homage to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Singin in the Rain, A Little Night Music, Fame, and more … all it achieves is to show how good they really were. And the film’s reception tells you a lot about the group mentality of critics and awards juries.
I recently saw “Guys and Dolls “ again. And I thought – of dance and dialogue, “How clever. How witty.” Would anyone say either of “La La Land”?
And I’m writing about it in a writing blog because? Because I think the script is undercooked, one-dimensional, and clichéd. It’s not the only high-budget Hollywood movie to have been made with a terrible script by any means. And as such it shows that films get made because the package is right – name director, name cast, budget ready to spend, all available at the same time – not because the script is great – or even finished. Whatever the script-writing schools, courses, forums, websites will tell you, although you need a good script to make a good film, having a good script doesn’t mean your film will get made.
(Photo credit Los Angeles © Thomas Pintaric, Creative Commons licence)