How hard should a movie try to please its audience?  If movies are a diversion from the strains of real life–as so many people insist they are–is there such a thing as trying to hard?

La La Land can serve as the primary evidence to support your answer to that question, regardless of how you feel.  There’s no doubt that the people involved are pulling out all the stops, sweating blood to give you a good time at the movies.  Every shot is meticuously composed, and the camera moves and swirls with the wild abandon the film is designed to make you feel.  The performers (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone) are charming and beautiful.  There are vibrant colors and touching songs and background dancers and hyper-real lighting cues, all of it pushing the emotion to 11.

That’s all well and good, but I was reminded of that particular sort of party host who expends so much effort to make everything perfect that he sucks the life out of the room.  La La Land is so concerned with being loved that sometimes it’s hard to like.  The first half of the film–when our two young dreamers meet and flirt and fall in love–feels like an upscale sitcom onto which someone has inexplicably grafted songs.  The film wants to be a throwback to the musicals of the ’30s and ’40s, but it feels too inorganic to pull it off.  (Hail, Caesar! better serves that purpose, if you’re jonesing for a modern take on classic Hollywood.)

The second half of the film slows down and relaxes, which improves things considerably.  Here, the actors are allowed to strike more realistic notes and bittersweet moments provoke actual feeling.  The film references Casablanca early, and it pushes toward a similar emotional climax.  There are fewer songs, which increases the impact of those that remain.  Particularly moving is Emma Stone’s final audition, which shows what the film could have been if it had found the right tone earlier.

I was reminded of The Artist and Slumdog Millionaire, both of which won Best Picture Oscars by being serviceable, good-not-great crowd-pleasers.  Trying hard can pay off in box office and awards season toasts.  But five or ten years later, will anyone still care?


About semiblind

Bringing you stark existentialism since 1981.
This entry was posted in best-laid plans, entertainment, observations and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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