FilmApe’s review published on Letterboxd:
I was walking into the theatre today, and some random guy said to me "Star Wars is sold out", which caused me to have a couple thoughts that resulted in a bit of an identity crisis.
1. Do I look like the type of person who would be seeing Rogue One instead of La La Land?
2. Do I look like someone who hadn't already seen Rogue One, first showing on opening night?
Then, as I was walking out of La La Land, with the sea of old people who made up the audience, I overheard them commenting (entirely negatively), about how they "wouldn't be able to get the last two and a half hours of their life back", which again caused me to have a couple thoughts that resulted in a bit of an identity crisis.
1. These plebeians, who are most likely only seeing a handful of movies a year, are voicing the same negative thoughts that I am having right now.
2. Am I a plebeian?
I feel like it is now my job to convince you, or at least attempt to convince you, that I am not a plebeian, and in the process, convince myself.
La La Land starts out pretty rough, with the opening highway sequence, which is the worst musical number in the entire film. My biggest complaint is that the camera is doing all the movement, and whatever choreography was done during this sequence goes completely unappreciated. The opening number just feels like a bunch of people jumping around and hitting their marks, in order to facilitate the constantly moving camera. There is no sense of this being a big choreographed number, or context to where this is all taking place. The end moment, where we actually get some context regarding where this highway is, in relation to Los Angeles, is a good moment, especially when you can see how far the cars, and dancers go, but the sequence is a complete mess until that point.
Then, we get introduced to our two characters, and what follows is a pretty standard romantic comedy, that has musical numbers thrown in. Apart from the City of Stars song, there isn't another song that I can even recall. Now, I don't care if there isn't much of a plot, when the musical numbers are killer, but the musical numbers are mostly just eye rolly. My experience of watching the film was pretty much, okay we are doing this romantic comedy thing, oh and now we are doing a musical number, oh, okay. There was very little rhythm to the film, and the numbers just felt dropped in, rather than flowing naturally. Then by the second half of the movie, the musical numbers are basically gone, and we get the more message heavy part of the film. There is just too much having your cake and eating it to going on, and what could have either been a killer musical, or a decent enough romantic comedy, is just a somewhat tedious film experience.
Now, the two leads are completely charming (of course), but their characters are boring and uninteresting. Both have dreams, and both are struggling at achieving these dreams, and that is basically the two characters described completely. You get some moments where there is a conversation about how movie theatres aren't worth going to anymore, by a bunch of suits (suits suck), or how Jazz is amazing, in order to characterize the main characters as being nostalgic for another time, and passionate about their crafts, but the development of these characters is pretty lightweight, particularly once we see where the film is going with them.
About midway through the film, the movie introduces its Whiplash-y message element, which is about what compromises one is willing to make for success, and whether or not compromising for success means betraying one's passion. This is a topic that is certainly interesting, but given that the characters are shallow, the film doesn't really go anywhere interesting with the subject.
In the end, we basically just get a very similar to Whiplash wrap up, where the film contemplates what one has to give up in order for success, and whether or not it is worth it. Even though the two characters take different paths, one selling out (I guess) and one sticking to their guns, they still both arrive at the same place in the end, which leaves the whole topic of passion and compromise just sort of hanging, with no definitive answer to the question that the film asks.
In summation, the film misses the mark for me. It certainly isn't an offensive movie, and its accessibility to most people (aside from us plebs), makes it obvious as to why it is getting praise, but I think it is a failed film for multiple reasons. There is just too much reliance on the camera in order to convey energy and movement (I just thought about the number where the camera goes into the pool), and not enough done with the film's message, to make this a good musical, or a compelling film. I kinda wish Rogue One hadn't been sold out...