Jake Moran’s review published on Letterboxd:
This was one of the strangest viewing experiences I've ever had, and this is partly due to the fact that this is one of the strangest movies I've ever seen. I spent so much of the run time trying to like the film, but recognizing that none of it sat right with me. Let me attempt to explain why.
The film feels like it's trying to be two distinct things: an homage to old Hollywood musicals, and a serious art film. While these categories are not mutually exclusive, they seem here to be running completely counter to each other. Like, the colors in the movie are all so saturated, but none of it matches up with any preexisting old Hollywood movie palette. The colors become distracting, and at some points, just downright strange. And as for the music, none of the songs are remarkable. In every musical I've ever seen, there's at least one song that you just can't get out of your head. In La La Land, I think I'd have to listen to the soundtrack on repeat a few times just to get into the music.
I was never able to quite grasp why the film affected me so strangely, but I think it's mainly due to the problem of tone. In nearly every scene, I was confused about how I (as the audience) was supposed to feel. When my friends told me to go see it, they told me it was "delightful" and "fun" and "pretty". I experienced only one moment of true delight in the film, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to (see the "Start a Fire" scene). The rest of the run time, I was just confused. The scenes between Stone and Gosling all play out very uncomfortably, and they seem to be ripped from two different movies and thrown into this one without any context. Neither of them appear to be playing a part in a musical. Musicals traditionally go for big emotions in order to get a broad appeal and more audience interaction. The film, all at once, both seemed to be trying to recreate old musicals AND AT THE SAME TIME apologizing for its musical-ness.
To be completely honest, though, I'd never hate on a friend who did like this movie because I'm not actually entirely convinced that this movie is BAD. But I'd ask them this: did you enter the theater already CONVINCED that this film is a masterpiece? Many of my friends adored this film, but they all adored it before they saw it... so wouldn't that affect their criticism?
There are two moments that stick out to me in the film, that I think explain my feelings better. There's a moment where Gosling and Stone are talking about Stone's one-woman play, and she says,
"It's great!" he says.
"It's too nostalgic."
"That's the point!"
The second moment is a simple one: Stone, now married, leaves with her husband to go on a date. But they say goodbye to their daughter and the babysitter first. In this shot, the filmmakers could have done it simply. They're just SAYING GOODBYE to their daughter for the night! But the coloring is so unnatural and saturated with colors that don't actually mean anything in the scene but are just "pretty", and the damn camera keeps moving around in the shot. Why couldn't you just set down the camera for a second? My awareness of the camera pulled me out of the viewing experience and made the short scene so unreal and unnecessarily played out for me.
But I'd be interested to hear any counterpoints. Because I'm not convinced that it's a bad movie. Just that it's a weird one.