Thursday, January 12, 2017

La La Land

The opening moments of La La Land are rapturous. The vivid colors and lively music, set beside the modern, Los Angeles off-ramp exploding into choreographed song and dance just fill the heart with joy. It's an impressive set piece, the magnitude of which is not lost on the audience. The film does an admirable job keeping that notion alive, although the rest of the movie does not quite maintain those soaring heights. The acting performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are exquisite, reassembling their chemistry from Crazy, Stupid, Love, where they were the most redeeming part of an otherwise average movie.

The problems in La La Land are not really something they can control. Writer/Director Damian Chazelle (Whiplash) does such a perfect job showing us pure, unadulterated beauty through the first part of the film that inevitable conflict seems like defeat. I know no serious critic or film buff would praise a movie that's just a hand-off love story set to music, but darn it if that isn't what I wanted. The story we get, while formulaic in its bones, is paid off in its own kind of beauty. It's fulfilling if not fantastical and a real credit to the quality of the writing.

In the end, La La Land was just OK. It may very well be one of the ten best movies of the year - I'm not doubting its quality - I just think perhaps it was built up a little too much in my mind going in. There was a span, in the middle, when the drama was picking up, that they went so long without a musical number, when the next one struck, it took me five seconds to figure out why a character was uncharacteristically bursting into song. The songs are great, though, catchy and rewatchable - I couldn't help but think, in the might-have-been flashback towards the end, that the movie depicted there wouldn't have been a more interesting story to tell.

It was worth the trip to the theater, if only for the color palate splayed across the big screen, and I'd certainly recommend it to anyone, but I suspect if this movie wins Best Picture at the Oscars, it will be a really down year overall.

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