So, my blog’s been quiet for a while, for the simple reason that I’ve been busy moving house, which has been both time-consuming and exhausting. But now all the essentials are in place, and today I took some time to head down to the cinema and see the film that everyone’s been talking about in this awards season: La La Land. It’s won seven Golden Globes, and it’s been nominated for fourteen Academy Awards, equalling All About Eve and Titanic for the all-time nomination record. Its chances of winning Best Picture – and plenty else besides – are high. I had not originally planned to see La La Land, because as I’ve said before, I don’t generally go for musicals. But with all this critical acclaim, I felt the need to go and see what all the fuss was about. When I walked out of the theatre, my feelings were…complicated.
The film is set in modern-day Los Angeles, though it opens with a song-and-dance routine on a crowded highway which feels more reminiscent of an earlier age. The protagonists are Mia (Emma Stone), who is struggling to get further than the audition phase of an acting career, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a musician who dreams of owning his own jazz club. The two repeatedly bump into each other, and while they don’t hit it off right away, they gradually fall in love, though their relationship comes to be tested by their respective career decisions.
The musical element of this film, I really wasn’t impressed by. The opening number, “Another Day of Sun”, was pleasant to listen to and the choreography was impressive, but I can barely remember any part of the song now. Indeed, the same goes for all the music except for “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme”, which I remember at least partly because the opening notes make me think of “Speak Softly Love” from The Godfather. It’s certainly not Moana, where the songs remained stuck in my head for ages. Plus, I know that musicals tend to take place in a fantasy universe where it’s okay to spontaneously burst into song in public, but I still wondered just why Mia and Sebastian felt the need to dance with each other while singing a song about how they didn’t especially like each other at that moment.
Throughout the first act, I wasn’t enjoying the film very much – until it got to the scene at the Griffith Observatory. This was a standout, an absolutely beautiful scene which featured no singing, but lovely music and visuals as Mia and Sebastian rise into the air and dance across a planetarium dome. And from there, with the two characters now in a proper relationship, I found myself connecting with the film and its drama a lot more. It’s really quite cleverly structured: the majority of the musical numbers take place when the two characters are in their most idealistic frame of mind, but then the musical element takes a backseat as reality kicks in. The film now makes some interesting explorations of the theme of following your dreams, and certainly doesn’t simplify the concept; it raises the idea that compromise and flexibility aren’t necessarily bad things where dreams are concerned, and has Mia and Sebastian’s dreams impacted by a tangle of different factors.
La La Land is also a very visually appealing film, making full use of its sunny California setting, and generally opting for simple colour schemes. It’s also very fond of long shots, with the camera spending most of the musical numbers following the actors without cutting away. As with the choreography, it’s impressive, but I wasn’t sure of the point, and after a while it just felt like showing off.
Overall, there was things I liked about La La Land, and others that didn’t gel with me personally. As with Singin’ in the Rain, I ultimately preferred the story to the musical elements, and I felt it was good that the latter didn’t dominate the film like I was expecting. It wouldn’t be my choice for Best Picture, but I can see why it will probably win, and I’m glad that I went to see it. Rating: 3.5/5.