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Wednesday 8 February 2017

La La Land, Film 2016, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, 5* out of 10

This bitter-sweet romantic-drama-musical is only mildly enjoyable. There are relatively strong scenes at beginning and the end - the rest is rather weak. The main characters are emotionally immature and lack depth and chemistry. The music has some good syncopation but no memorable melodies. Much ado about very little. 

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) meet in Los Angeles and immediately dislike each other; clearly they are heading for romance. Sebastian plays standard tunes in a Hollywood restaurant, Mia works as barista in a Hollywood-studio-lot coffee shop (the clean-cut American, not the Dutch weed-distributing kind). Sebastian thinks Jazz is great, Mia’s dream is to become a famous Hollywood actress. When romance strikes, Sebastian will persuade Mia that she can make it, if she persists. In return Mia persuades Sebastian that he will one day have the Jazz Club he dreams of, if he persists. Will their plans for romance and career be realized?

The first and last scenes of La La Land are good, set, special effects,  photography  and choreography come together here. As for the rest, this film is sadly lacking in what makes a romantic musical. The script has no edge and hardly any wit. The music has some good syncopation but lacks catchy melodies. This is a disappointing effort from writer/director Damien Chazelle, who managed to bring plenty of wit and edge to his excellent 2014-film Whiplash, which also included a brilliant Jazz-score. Moreover, as there is no real chemistry between Ms. Stone and Mr. Gosling - both capable of great acting performances in various genres, but mainly coasting here - the romance part on which this film turns, lacks the necessary spark to be credible. Sebastian and Mia seem to stay together because each can provide to the other the persistence they need to succeed professionally. Why cannot they summon enough motivation from within? The answer is given in a dialogue between them when Mia, disappointed that Sebastian appears to have given up on his dream (- or is it her dream for him?) says: “People like people who are passionate about something.” Really? Is the moral of this film: if you want to be liked by people (which people exactly?) you must be passionate about something (does it matter which something or can you just choose at random?).

In the face of a gut-wrenchingly brilliant film like Manchester-by-the-Sea being available for choice it is regrettable, though not surprising, that this year perhaps, in a communal attempt to escape political realities, a dreamy musical romance/drama would get a record equalling number of Oscar nominations.

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