‘La La Land’ Review: A Case Of Style Over Substance

January 29, 2017 4 min read

‘La La Land’ Review: A Case Of Style Over Substance

January 29, 2017 4 min read

la la land poster

It’s the film that’s already swept the Golden Globes and picked up a massive 14 Oscar nominations, but is La La Land really worth all the hype?

Damien Chazelle‘s follow up to the glorious Whiplash, La La Land is a throwback to classic musical cinema with a somewhat modern filter, and follows the romance of Emma Stone‘s struggling actress Mia and Ryan Gosling‘s talented jazz pianist Seb against the backdrop of a hazy, sunny, shallow LA.

The most remarkable and memorable element of La La Land is it’s visual beauty – the use of bold primary colours in costumes and pastel hues of California sunsets makes for a dazzling and engaging cinematography experience. Every part of the screen has been placed to give maximum aesthetic impact, and it’s clear that colour is at the core of the feel of this film.

From the colours in the scene, to the camera movements, use of light, and the smallest steps in the dance routine, it feels like nothing is accidental here; that it’s all been scrupulously planned to bring Chazelle’s modern fairytale to life. The razor sharp precision we saw in the direction of the drumming scenes in Whiplash is heavily present, with snappy editing and jazz music scenes delivered expertly.

la la land review

This is a movie about movies, and you can’t help but feel and soak up the director’s love for cinema and music. There’s nostalgia in spades, from the retro font to the way the film shows the passing of time, and the LA setting of neon lights and movie sets transports you to the Hollywood days of old. But whilst it delivers on old school feels, it’s always very much set in the present day, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

So what else is good?

The performances are strong, from both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. It’s undeniable they have chemistry and Stone in particular has a certain realness that she brings to every role. The stripped back conversational scenes of conflict between them are the strongest, with one dinner table moment in particular really drawing you in.

There’s a really nice and unexpected undertone in the plot about creativity, following your dreams and the sacrifices you might have to make in doing so, and that’s the part of the storyline that resonated with us as a viewer.

How the film uses music is interesting too – rather than big iconic set pieces that steal the show like in classic musicals, the songs here instead tend to be used as a way to further express the emotion the characters are going through in the scene. This feels more subtle and nice for viewers who maybe aren’t the biggest fans of the conventional ‘musical’ – you don’t need to love musicals to enjoy this film. The vocals from the two protagonists, whilst pleasant, weren’t exactly groundbreaking – but for us, it didn’t matter. The songs weren’t about big voices, they were about conveying the story and chemistry between characters and it made them feel more like real people. You were never removed from the story because of the music.

la la land review

However, despite all of the above, La La Land isn’t quite the piece of perfection that it’s nominations might have you believe. The songs themselves, whilst fitting to the feel of the film, are largely forgettable – ‘City of Stars’ is the only true treasure, and the opening song feels forced and unnecessary.

There’s also some seriously incongruous moments, in particular a dreamlike sequence at Griffith Observatory which sees Mia and Seb lift up and dance in the stars. You can see the romance it was going for, but it really lifts you out of the story and takes the integral surrealism of the musical genre in general just a bit too far.

And whilst the performances and chemistry is strong, we couldn’t help but feel there was a lack of depth to the storyline, to the character’s decisions, to the ups and downs of the relationship. There was passionate and moving moments, sure, but it only ever seemed to scratch the surface. Dare we say it, but could this be a case of style over substance?

Overall, La La Land is a visually glorious, expertly delivered piece of nostalgic, traditional cinema escapism that is an uplifting way to spend 2 hours, but ultimately it didn’t have the real impact in emotion as well as appearance that we were hoping.

We’re giving it an enjoyable, would-recommend 3 stars. Don’t hurt us!

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months and have no idea what we’re on about, here’s the La La Land trailer to catch you up. We’d love to know what you thought of the film in the comments!

Images from here, here and here.

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Hi! I'm Sophie.

Writer, thinker, often overwhelmed.I like to talk about film, feelings and feminism. Not necessarily in that order.

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