La La Land

La La Land ★½

Part of what I loved so much about Whiplash is replicated here: the stunning editing and camerawork, the flawless direction of music, the passion for music. What's missing in the director's follow up is the askew viewpoint, the odd way of looking at art and the pursuit of art. Contrary to what some have argued, the end of Whiplash is one of mutually assured destruction: the two characters' focus and desire for perfection ultimately annihilates their social capital. Neither will work again. It's a fitting end, a thematically perfect end, for one of my favourite films.

It's too bad that Chazelle abandons in La La Land what made his directorial debut so unique and fresh. Instead of this carefully modulated criticism of artistic pursuit, the much feted La La Land goes for the most middle possible in the road. I can imagine Film Crit Hulk is going to love this movie: it's Screenplay 101, and the film for sure suffers from this.

The major problem is a lack of characterization. While I can remember much of Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons' acting choices and characterization in Whiplash, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are just playing themselves. Charming they might be, but they're certainly not textured enough to sustain my interest through the non-musical sequences. A flat story (New York New York, a criminally under-appreciated Scorsese did this better) and flat characterization made this a slog for me.

The third act hinge, Emma Stone's baffling confusion on how a band makes money, rings so utterly hollow. Honestly, this conflict only arises because Robert McKee's book demands screenplays have this particular conflict at this particular juncture. Instead of zagging like Whiplash did (a car crash), La La Land zigs, probably all the way to Oscar glory because there's no fucking justice in this world.

Yet, like The Neon Demon, I can't hate this film. I can still like it because, as I said, Chazelle has a tight grip on cinematic grammar: the editing, the camerawork, the production design, costuming, etc etc etc. All of these elements have been marshalled so professionally and artfully.

But what is La La Land trying to say about artists? That only commercially viable art is the art worth pursuing? That artists should be supported, no matter how foolish their ideas? As with this year's disappointing return to the Bourne franchise, La La Land suffers from a lack of ideological coherency. It's an empty film seemingly designed for maximum audience pleasure.

A critic on Twitter said it, and I can't remember who, but they said this film is like a very decadent dessert: delicious at first bite, but that's all you really need. The opening act sufficed; everything else didn't really work for me.

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