UNFILTERED THOUGHTS: ‘La La Land’ (2016)

What lies ahead is an unedited jumble of words, thrown onto a blank sheet of paper late at night after seeing a movie. Enjoy at your own risk.

I just got home from seeing the film that will win Best Picture at the Academy Awards in two-and-a-half months time.

I don’t care that there are still several worthy films still to come (or, rather, films that think they’re worthy, like what I imagine Ben Affleck’s Live By Night thinks of itself, so it pushes for a limited release on Christmas 2016, but isn’t released wide until January 13, 2017, so it obviously cares but like, sorry, Ben, you already got your Oscar and you have yet to prove you deserve another one so moving on…). La La Land will win Best Picture. You can quote me. You can etch that quote into my grave stone if you want. There’s no way a film that is this dazzling and grand, while also playing to the Old Guard so well through its musical numbers and interest in exploring Hollywood culture itself doesn’t win.

It’s just too bad I think it’s only just a good movie.

(hit CONTINUE READING to read about some problems, and also some good stuff)

Yes, of course there are problems! Glaring ones, even! Like the fact that the story is so simplistically predictable that there’s no point in really following along, or putting any thought into it altogether. Or that it hardly delves into anything nuanced with its characters or beats, and rather paints in these enormous, broad strokes that are meant to hit every viewer in the exact same way and that subjective interpretation is meh. Or that there’s no way anyone could dislike this film because despite how showy it is, it never really wants to take any chances, but is good at doing everything that it does so well, that if you hate it, you’re just hating it because you think it’s cool to hate it, and no, it’s not cool to hate something like this.

There are also personal problems, like: I Don’t Like Musicals. Mainly, I just can’t suspend my disbelief that far. There isn’t a universe I can imagine in which people just break out into song to express their feelings in an expository way. I think musicals are degrading to what it means to be a human, and to deal with the human conditions of thought and emotion; we’re far more complex. I don’t want to just HEAR your feelings, I want to SEE them come across the screen in a way that challenges me and forces me to figure out what you’re going through. I want to WORK for it, God damn it, and this movie doesn’t make me work for anything in the slightest!

Sigh.

la-la-land
This movie is gorgeous and has gorgeous people in it.

But I think I’m learning how to sit back and enjoy. And there is a lot to enjoy here.

Sometimes it comes in scenes, like when Damien Chazelle (writer/director) uses Ryan Gosling’s character, Sebastien, for almost no other purpose than to justify his love of jazz. Or maybe the dinner scene at the end of Act 2, which somehow takes a conversation that we know is going towards a specific destination far before it actually reaches that place and turns it into something more than worthwhile. Or perhaps it’s a moment as simple as Emma Stone walking down the street and being lured into a jazz club by faint piano tinkling, or the expression on her face when she sits on her childhood bed.

There are other things to allow oneself to be overwhelmed by as well. This is a marvel of “Cinema” and editing. You can say all you want about the costumes, but Chazelle reveals with La La Land that he is an utter master of camera movement. I’d need more than two hands to count the number of shots that span over a minute. For it, the editors really don’t have to do much work, but when they’re called upon to bend time — which this film does in several ways — they perform more than admirably, creating utterly seamless transitions.

And what about the performances? Personally, I’m partial to Gosling’s, and it’s not just because of my man crush on him. There’s just something about him recently (in The Nice Guys, or The Big Short, as well) where he brings such a perfect blend of comedy and charm to the role. He had elements of each before, but with his recent string of films, he absolutely nails it, thanks to the fact that he finally gets to play to all of his strengths rather than just a few. Emma Stone is wonderful, as well — I have some issues, but they’re more that she’s such a great actress that I have a hard time believing she didn’t get the parts she auditioned for — and certainly appears to have the more pleasant voice of the two. Yet, I couldn’t help but think that all I want out of this world is for a woman as pretty as her to look at me the way she looks at Ryan Gosling when he’s playing the piano.

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Hope you like these two. They’re about all the characters you get.

There’s one final thing I want to touch on: how personal this film is, and how personal it isn’t. Chazelle’s two greatest loves — movies and jazz — are this movie. Gosling is jazz. Stone is movies. Simple as that. But at the same time, is this really his story? Whiplash was problematic, but that was Chazelle through and through, and you just knew it. This isn’t Chazelle. This is Chazelle putting on a bunch of masks at a Halloween party, and everyone loving it, but everyone also kind of wishing that he’d take off the mask and just talk to the people at the party and be himself for a little while. He’s an absolute, unabashed student of both artistic mediums, but I’d rather watch an artist be a student of himself than a student of something else, to be honest. Combining the two is great as well, but don’t sacrifice the former for the latter, please.

So no, personally, this film didn’t inspire me creatively. And in some ways, it kind of saddened me. Actually, a lot of ways. Well, no, just one main way: What the f*** am I doing in Los Angeles and should I even be here? I guess if I’m not doing what I love, then it doesn’t make sense to be out here at all, and if I’m not trying to do what I love, then, well, that’s that. So I should wrap up this review, or whatever the hell this is, get some shut eye, and do some screenwriting tomorrow.

Grade: B+ (7/10)

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Author: Max Wood

It just takes time. Hard work and your time. It could change your life.

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