Golden Globe awards have been won and having brought in $100 million at the box office and climbing up the US charts with a killer soundtrack, La La Land continues to soar as the best film of 2016. The hype from the press and social media suggested that viewers would be getting something original from Hollywood. The idea of our favourite heartthrob, Ryan Gosling, and American sweetheart, Emma Stone, taking us on a brightly-lit journey of hope, love, song, dance and tears had people eagerly reserving tickets to see it on the first night it was released. Yet rather than satisfaction, mixed opinions abound – not everyone was reeling as much as the critics who gave it a five-star rating.
Don’t you just hate it when that happens? When almost everyone says something amazing about a film (or show), yet when you check it out for yourself you feel like you’ve been wronged. Taking much of its filmic influences from the old 1940-50 movies of MGM Studios, La La Land is about the American dream pursued by two young hopefuls who fall in love and their attempt to make things happen. It’s a pastiche of the old and new, including tap dancing (like the style of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell), singing like Gene Kelly from Singin’ in the Rain or trifling with the delicacy of love from Casablanca.
Set right in the centre of today’s Hollywood, Mia (Emma Stone) works as a barista in one of Hollywood’s cafe while jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) makes ends meet by seeking music opportunities where he can, from stylish restaurants to retro pool parties. One wants to be a Hollywood actress while the other wants to restore jazz back to its glory days. The story is watertight and even the narrative isn’t overly soppy – the ending isn’t a Disney ending (put it that way).
So, what can we love about the film that has shot up the best films lists of 2016? Firstly, the way the movie has been filmed is mesmerising. Secondly, the dance choreography and the moving soundtrack, with catchy songs including Someone in the Crowd and City of Stars, are noteworthy and deserve the kudos for originality and freshness. The musical theatre set-up seamlessly fits into the film which is also a blessing, yet in spite of these praises, the film goes deadpan because of its lead characters and the choice of poor casting.
(I am not implying that Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling are bad actors, far from it.) Mia and Sebastian’s personas are intact and convincing. Gosling and Stone bounce off one another without any fuss, yet the crucial artistic points of La La Land were compromised by the sheer lack of singing, instrumental and dancing expertise. Ryan Gosling’s voice was unappealing. This was also the case for Emma Stone who clearly didn’t know how to sing before rehearsing for La La Land- stringing along spoken words and prolonging them is not what singing is about.
Also Stone’s dancing was unbearably stale and robotic. As much as the duo have on-screen chemistry, having acted together on numerous films including Gangster Love and Crazy, Stupid, Love, it would have been better had Damien Chazelle, director, and screenwriter, picked A-class actors who were trained in the business of singing, dancing or musical theatre. John Travolta, Hugh Jackman and Jennifer Lopez are just a handful of examples of screen actors who had the vocal and physical training prior to their film careers, and without a doubt there are better choices for the role of Mia and Sebastian out there, if only Chazelle had stretched his search further.
Chazelle’s mission to merge musical theatre in to a film has received acclaimed by some, yet they cannot compare to the successes of, say, Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge or Rob Marshall’s Chicago with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere. I’ve seen some incredible singing and dancing live on stage, which blew me away, but La La Land was deeply disappointing.