Peter Murphy, writer of But Here’s the Thing blog, reviews the movie of the moment.
Lala Land is just a good old fashioned musical; singing and dancing and all that jazz. I watched it a week ago now (I’m a terrible procrastinator) and I honestly don’t know whether or not I loved this movie or merely found it passable. I swing back and forth primarily based on whether or not I’m listening to the soundtrack (which is phenomenal).
Look, it is an honest to god, classic, tap dancing musical, with great choreography, actors, cinematography, and soundtrack. That’s about it, and if that’s what you want to sign up for (which is well worth it) then you’ll love it. Putting my bias up front; I used to work as a sound engineer and musical theatre would be my guilty pleasure if I felt the slightest bit guilty about it. It is the musical equivalent of Pacific Rim; they knew exactly what they wanted to achieve and who they wanted appeal to and they damn well nailed it. I hope you are someone who wants what it offers.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play/are very pretty people who love to generally partake in the arts. That’s pretty much their characters summed up. Emma Stone is an actress wannabe scraping by as a barista in Hollywood; she eventually decides to write her own play which gets her noticed. Ryan Gosling is a jazz pianist who is very distraught over the decline of Jazz and wants to save it. Both are wonderful, talented people/actors and I’m sure the roles were basically designed for them, especially Emma Stone because her character has no other defined traits.
It’s just Emma Stone’s sheer adorable charisma which keeps her character interesting; she has no other defining features. She doesn’t undergo a character arc, she never changes her view on anything really, and she just waits for luck to strike. To be fair, that should be worth bonus points for realism, but if Emma Stone as an actor wasn’t soendearing I would hate the character (I don’t even remember her name). She can dance though, and if you think she can’t sing at the beginning you will change your mind by the end.
Ryan Gosling can play piano very well (he apparently learned to play for the role) and is the far more interesting character. He has an established arc of compromising on his long-held ideals for the woman he loves, and eventually embracing change as a growth experience. He embraces the ever changing nature of jazz as a means to achieve his life goals. I like him; he’s an ass, but a genuinely good person underneath. I’d like to blame school sports teams for the sheer number of friends I have that I can/do describe that way.
I’m sure there are other characters, but I can’t for the life of me remember them, they sung well though.
It’s pretty; it’s well done in a show-off-y kind of way. There are some gorgeous shots in this movie, true cinematic art. Emma Stone stops to speak directly framed by two red neon lights, they both sit on a perfectly centred bench overlooking the LA skyline, the path to the observatory and the sequence within, those moments stand out to me as truly serene moments of beauty. The entire tap dancing sequence ( yes there is a tap dancing sequence) is beautiful.
That being said, it’s no Stranger Things. Stranger Things was meticulously put together shot by shot, everything is near perfect, with some specific moments where it just sparkles (Nancy sitting on the diving board for one). Lala Land is more targeted: specific scenes were crafted to blatantly show off the film makers’ talent, several perfect scenes strung together by mediocrity. It’s the difference between listening to a virtuoso who casually found a piano in the lobby of the hotel he is staying at, and someone who tells you they are the best at piano and makes you gather your friends to listen. They can both be equal pianists, but there is an inherent joy in watching someone who is performing out of sheer personal enjoyment or artistic interest, as opposed to someone who performs for a crowd and the fame. It’s why I love watching Top Gear (and now Grand Tour) despite having little to no interest in cars, those guys love what they do and it is magic to watch them work.
Lala Land has wonderful cinematography, but it’s a little too eager to show it off for my tastes.
Go listen to it yourself, it’s on Spotify, google it, whatever, just listen to it and enjoy.
But Here’s The Thing:
Well first off, I can barely remember any of the songs. They just aren’t that catchy. Amazing yes, catchy no. This movie was a collection of beautiful scenes that are true works of art, and a half decent store, strung together with a bunch of mediocre filler, and characters who sort of disappear. Ryan Gosling had a sister, Emma Stone had 4 roommates, and I have no idea what happened to them. I liked them, they were pretty. I would love to watch a version of this movie that is just 100% the songs, with everything else cut out. My parents went to see this, and my father described the first 2/3rds as “Blabla land”, and he is right, the filler is boring, the movie is just stalling to get to the next song, the next amazing song.
Most of all this movie brought up for me an old realisation from a time when I worked in a theatre camp (I worked as a sound engineer). That lesson was that the sheer volume of individuals of all ages who can sing, dance, and act at a professional level is mind boggling. It will never be enough to be good at only one, and you are kidding yourself if you think otherwise. Hell, the odds are pretty bad even if you have all 3. Emma Stone’s character describes her attempts at breaking into showbiz as going into an audition with 20 people, who look just like her only prettier, and I don’t think that is far from the truth.
It’s just refreshing to see the classic musical hit the big screen in a big way again. I don’t think I’ve seen a proper tap dancing sequence in colour film, and it has been a while since this sort of ‘whole street breaks out into song and dance’ sort of movie Has been done well. The ending is amazing, the music phenomenal, and it’s an emotional roller coaster.
So I would recommend seeing it, as long as musicals are at least kind of your thing.
I maintain that all that would also be true for the abridged cut I hope someone makes with just the songs, like Interstellar 5555 (which is on youtube and great) only with people.
(originally published at: www.butheresthething.com)