God, I love musicals.
I watch musical films to cheer myself up, I watch musical films to turn my happiness into ecstasy. I listen and boisterously sing along to musical soundtracks in the car, in the shower, in my head. There are not-very-good movies that I'm wont to give perfect scores solely because they are musicals. Point is: I'm biased.
Enter La La Land, a movie that I'd assumed would land a spot in my favorites of the year since I saw the first trailer. Romance? Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone? Bursting into song!? I thought I might appreciate it too much- but after seeing it, I think I appreciate it the appropriate amount.
La La Land is unarguably great. But it is not the masterpiece some claim it to be. It is an immaculately composed heart with an irregular beat.
Explore why with me, dear readers- in song!
Just kidding. I'm not lyricizing this review. I am not as talented as the filmmakers behind La La Land.
Chief of which is writer/director Damien Chazelle, a young phenomenon who has spent his career making movies about music (including 2014's Whiplash). His longtime friend and college roommate Justin Hurwitz- who has composed the music for all of Chazelle's films- helps him take things a step further with this delightful musical.
More than delightful, actually. Magical.
Damien Chazelle showcases an astounding level of talent with his direction here. It is technically flawless. The intricacies of the central performances, choreography of the dance numbers, sensual color grading, sweeping cinematography, the electric pacing- all pitch perfect.
In the realm of the film medium, that is quite the long list of directorial touches to execute perfectly. La La Land is a veritable buffet of moving parts, orchestrated with such timing that Chazelle is more of a wizard than a director. This is a film meant to be beholden rather than simply seen.
Not content with letting the ones behind the camera take the spotlight, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling give reliably endearing performances. The two have built up a chemistry that is still fascinating to watch unfold. At times it seems like Stone and Gosling are playing the versions of themselves that the public has created, but they do it well. Please forgive their untrained singing voices.
The other star of the film is Los Angeles (the eponymous "L.A. L.A. Land, get it?). The movie is outwardly about falling in love while chasing your wildest dreams and the struggles that coincide- but that's where the screenplay's problems start to creep in. La La Land intermittently delves into these themes, but it's more concerned with being a musical.
La La Land is almost more of a tribute to classic musicals- chiefly 1964's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg- than it is its own film. The central relationship develops from a place of necessity, not love; dreams are pursued or abandoned not due to raw passion but because that's what characters in musicals do. The narrative is structured around so much nostalgia that it didn't convince me of its own romantic aspirations.
Musicals have a secret power to break your heart because imperfect events are all the more crushing in a sing-song world. Chazelle's screenplay forgets that key amidst the mission to craft the quintessential musical. The most bittersweet moment comes close, but it instead evolves into yet another opportunity to flaunt clever visuals. Pizzaz isn't negative until it's a smokescreen hiding routine emotion.
And the music? Grand, but not memorably so. I enjoyed every song with an immeasurable grin, but not a single tune stuck around in my head. That might come down to personal taste though.
It's a surface level affair, but La La Land's surface is all glorious pageantry. Your heart may not be pierced but there's absolutely no way you won't have a great time. Unless you hate musicals, in which case you have no heart to pierce in the first place.