“La La Land (2016)” Review

I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired. Then I’ll hit back.

Why did I watch it?

Oscar season reminded me it’d won a bunch of Oscars, and I wanted to see why.

Did it meet expectations?

The people of La La Land sure do like writing films about themselves. The trouble is they maybe sometimes overestimate how much someone outside LA may identify with an aspiring starlet, or be interested in her plight. The film opens with a random musical number then picks up Mia, a waiter and serial audition attender. When another, much more interesting character is introduced, it turns it’s her only scene in the film, since it’s her brother who is the co-star – an aspiring jazz pianist who is not quite as insipid as Mia, but not far off.

The film’s novelty is clearly its musical numbers, where all the character break into song and dance, as in the Hollywood musicals of the ’40s and ’50s. I’m a bit fussy about musicals (I mean there are some greats, like The Blues Brothers, Muppet’s Treasure Island or Top Hat but I have a low tolerance for the mediocre ones). The music’s inoffensive but not exciting. The film seemed to be leaning on the tropes as a kind of lazy shorthand. Boy meets girl, boy bickers with girl, we’re supposed to assume underlying attractiont, etc. But they’re no Beatrice and Benedict.

But in fact the film is more multilayered that. In fact, the music is quite varied and some of the numbers are enjoyable jazz. It develops a powerful theme. It uses the musical shorthand to efficiently build atmosphere, and generate a story across the space of a year, and pulls it together in an impressive final sequence. For all my initial indifference to the plight of Mia, I found myself not only identifying, but missing the days I spent with an amateur theatre company more than a decade ago. It’s evocative, and it’s enervating. It’s really rather brilliant.

You should watch it if…

  • You like song, dance and primary colours

You shouldn’t watch it if…

  • You dislike nostalgia

Next up: Game Night (2018)

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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