LA LA Land is a candy-colored spectacle but like a chocolate coin is not as rich in flavor as you would want. Still, if you connect with the emotions at play and fall in love with the love you see on screen it might be a great movie. The human characters and their interactions feel heightened but true. Visually Damien Chazelle shows a great control over the camera and an understanding of what makes something visually compelling.
The basic plot being that two entertainers one Mia Dolan an aspiring actress played by not so much aspiring Emma Stone and one Sebastian Wilder (I wonder if he’s a wild and crazy guy) an unemployed Jazz musician played by Ryan Gosling fall into a deep romance seemingly based on their shared passion for the crafts they have chosen.
Every scene feels lived in and nothing feels rushed. There is a tone in LA LA LAND that Chazelle sets that allows Gosling and Stone to break into song and keep even the most skeptical of musicals entertained. As a harsh critic of musicals, I was entranced. Completely unable to leave my seat for fear of losing where I was. There’s a hopeful optimism that never feels overblown while you’re there.
He’s able to take the things you might already associate with Los Angeles make them visually interesting if you didn’t think it was already or use them to humorous effect. Chazelle makes LA a character in the film, but like many of the characters in the film, it does not feel quite lived in as you put more thought into it. While I argue the lead characters played by Stone and Gosling are not completely empty there is little to define them from each other.
Maybe that’s why the relationship between Mia and Seb works so well. It feels like a universal story about two people falling in love and how their careers and other aspects push them apart. Two characters who are very much mirror images of each other seem to fall deeply for each other. I think the accessibility of the arc these two go on leads to believing in these two as a couple, aside from the fact the fact they have more chemistry on screen than most actors have with a glass milk. I cannot help but feel it is a distraction from the fact that both characters are snobs. Sebastian and Mia think they are in some way above their peers but what makes LA LA Land work is they are no snobbier than you or I would be on a daily basis. By skating past making the two of them too despicably cynical Chazelle does not through you out of loving the characters. The fight I continue to have internally is whether that makes LA LA Land a good film. As I said at the beginning it’s like candy – but it’s the chocolate coin or theme park Lolipop candy. Bright and Vibrant while trying to seem real and grounded, but beyond that initial rush of sugar how good is it.
Chazelle cast two incredibly charming leads that make you think Mia isn’t an asshole for not just going out with her friends automatically. It chides her friends for making a choice at the chance of furthering their careers. Chazelle, however, does not point out Mia should be going out and perhaps just to have fun.
I think that LA LA Land is a film that manipulates your emotions the same way incoherent pop songs do. The lyrics don’t make sense but you can interpret it however you want and be caught up in whatever aspects you love. I truly did find the love story between Seb and Mia worked but as you think more about their relationship the more you realize most of it isn’t onscreen. The music of the film which at it’s best is heart-wrenching fills in what you don’t see.
So, is LA LA Land uninspired cotton candy fluff or is it the greatest love story or all time?
Maybe it’s both?
Like a Rorschach, some people will see candy-colored dreams in LA LA Land and fall deeply in love with the songs and the lead performances. Some will find it empty and a poor imitation of others works. I have a hard time saying it isn’t a little bit of both and really successful doing so.