Adrian Powers

Popped Culture: ‘La La Land’ as pale as the Hollywood sign

Approx Reading Time-11The towering Oscar buzz surrounding La La Land highlights not only in the problems in Hollywood, but also how they see the diverse city of Los Angeles.

 


So, La La Land just feasted at the Golden Globes as an entree to the Oscars. Is anyone really shocked? Hollywood’s fancy for elevating and celebrating “show-bizz” stories has become an innocuous punchline over the past decades, but with La La Land’s nearly inevitable Oscar victory now very much in sight, the Academy stands poised to deliver the golden statue to perhaps the most undeserving candidate in recent history.

Hollywood has been replete with self-referential tales of late; stories that chronicle the lives, hopes, dreams and struggles of the creative industry. The notion that Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood has seeped into our collective movie-going consciousness, and recent titles such as Argo, Birdman and The Artist prove that these projects are often worthy of our time. As broadly different as those three titles are, each offered audiences a glimpse into a painstakingly rendered slice of the entertainment industry, while functioning as provocative, dimensional, technically impressive films in their own right. In contrast, La La Land is an uninspired, derivative bore.

Set against the backdrop of an aesthetically anachronistic 2016 Los Angeles, the film tells the tale of Mia and Sebastian. Mia (Emma Stone) is struggling (as we’ve seen so, so many times before) to catch that big break and finally score the role that will launch her acting career. Meanwhile, across town, obstinate jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) drifts from shallow gig to shallow gig, all the while determinedly scheming to restore and re-open a legendary LA jazz bar.

The pair eventually cross paths and trust me, you know the rest.

All of this happens in a bizarre, quasi-fantasy reality where struggling actors drive convertibles, a young white male decides he’s going to save the art of jazz and the suspension of disbelief is under constant attack.

The rest of La La Land is wafer-thin, so to say much else risks spoiling whatever remains of the film’s plot, despite its excruciating two-hour length. In this case, what matters more than the anaemic, clichéd story is how it’s delivered: the song and dance numbers. Oh, that’s right. I forgot to mention: La La Land is ostensibly a musical. Except…it’s not really. Despite a tonally inconsistent (and entirely unrelated) opening number of relative scope (and despite the film’s marketing promising a return to form for the classic Hollywood musical), La La Land barely manages to stumble across the screen. Lazy choreography and forgettable compositions abound but Ryan Gosling’s awful singing voice is the true star of the show here. Honestly, it’s bad. The film is limited to a handful of musical scenes, and none of them ever ignite. More time is spent by our lead characters discussing the particulars of their individual struggles, as they wander throughout some not particularly interesting LA locales. For a film with the name in the title twice, you’d think the filmmakers would have gone to an effort to capture some of the magic of the “city of stars”.

All of this happens in a bizarre, quasi-fantasy reality where struggling actors drive convertibles, a young white male decides he’s going to save the art of jazz and the suspension of disbelief is under constant attack. And don’t get me started on the lack of gay characters or the astoundingly manipulative third act climax. That being said, the finale of the film is perhaps the only moment that this otherwise languid movie has any pulse, so it remains a highlight by default. And while the film’s whimsical indulgences are surely identified as a strength by some, unlike other musicals where the laws of reality are freely bent and broken to accommodate the genre, La La Land never earns or justifies its numerous oddities and quirks, nor does it manage to soar to any emotional heights (again, bar the cheap ending).

In the midst of the second act, musician John Legend chastises Sebastian for his tenacious refusal to change with the times and accept that jazz has to grow and evolve if it wants to survive. It’s a fascinating moment because it leaves one wondering: from this point of view, what is La La Land? Is it a desperate attempt to cling to the charms and comforts of the past? Or is it a bold fusion of old and new? Whatever its intention, La La Land moves and sounds like a tone-def amateur.

See you at the Oscars.

 

Adrian Powers

Adrian Powers is an Australian film director and editor, who spends a disproportionate amount of time reflecting on the nature and impact of fictional characters who wear their underwear on the outside. He has a passion for storytelling and technology and is currently developing his next feature directorial project. You can catch him on Twitter @adrianjpowers

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