Regardless of how you feel about musical cinema, once the opening song of La La Land begins and a huge choreographed set-piece atop cars reaches it’s conclusion, I defy anyone to not at least be tapping their feet. If you allow it, there is a joy to the classical musical feel of La La Land and the way it brings what feels like an outdated form of cinema up-to-date.
Any film with such a heavy leaning on song and dance must get those two aspects right and La La Land doesn’t disappoint here. The songs here feel epic and suitably catchy, with one subtle but well used piano tune running through the whole movie. They are also used to effectively convey the characters, namely Ryan Goslings and Emma Stone who are the movie’s central couple.
Both of their first musical moments demonstrate their character’s main issues well but also showcase the talent that Gosling and Stone have. They clearly worked hard to get themselves into the “Musical Fitness” required to effectively play the two characters and this is never shown more than a scene in a park at sunset. The choreography, singing and general classic feel this scene has highlights the magic of La La Land and the call-back to a forgotten form of movies.
Which is why it is really unfortunate when this aspect of the film falls away. As the second act, and subsequently the second hour begins, it becomes clear that aside from the songs and dancing, La La Land is a really shallow and generic movie. This is a film about the tough decision between love and ambition but it doesn’t add anything new to that story. There seems to be a conscious decision to place the frequent musical set-pieces to one side for at least forty minutes of the runtime and just concentrate on the stories of the two central characters and while Gosling and Stone obviously handle this very well, they hardly have much to do to tell this quite average story.
The last act and more specifically the final scene, manages to save the movie and the general plot. It also highlights how well Whiplash director Damian Chazelle has crafted his musical. One sequence which covers the whole relationship of the central pair feels like it could have been taken from a stage-musical – a place this movie will probably find itself eventually.
Overall, La La Land brings back the magic of the movie musical for at least half of it’s run-time. While the music is playing, the stars are dancing and Gosling and Stone show-off their talent, this movie works. Unfortunately, when the film discards the musical elements, it becomes something much more generic.
Rating – 3
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