A common criticism of Hollywood is that the industry no longer has any respect for true art when it comes to film. A quick look at the top ten films of any given year, and you’ll find that they contain a dearth of plot and an abundance of special effects. Blockbusters are the new norm, tent poles that hold up the studio until the next fiscal year. Every once in awhile though, you’ll get a movie that manages to satisfy the critics’ desire for quality, the audience’s desire for a good film, and the studio’s desire for a commercial success.
La La Land is that movie.
As of the time of this writing, it’s managed to accrue a gross of over $330 million against a budget of $30 million; when you work out what the studio gets to keep, it comes to a $5 return for every dollar invested, a staggering success in any business. In addition, the film has a 93% approval rating from critics according to Rotten Tomatoes, with an audience score of 8.5/10 on IMDB. It also looks to win several Oscars this year.
Though the film follows a stage actress and a jazz musician on their roads to success in the modern day, the film itself is an ode to classic Hollywood film-making, suffused with noir blues, muted greens, and dance numbers. The movie is so 50’s it hurts. Its title slate looks faded and seems to shudder in place as if it’s being shown on film instead of a digital projector, and the copyright date is depicted in roman numerals.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone both do a tremendous job in their roles, no doubt helped by the fact that each has a background in their character’s vocation. Gosling himself is a musician, and his talent shows through. Unless they hired a stunt double for his hands during the close-ups, Ryan Gosling has some wicked skills on the ivory keys. Emma Stone’s character is an aspiring actress. Of course, an actress playing an actress is always bound to incite some Inception jokes. The struggles the character faces were probably very real for Emma at one point. In a sense, she’s not acting so much as reliving her memories.
The dialogue is smart and snappy, especially during the first half of the film, when our characters meet and their personalities clash. Their developing relationship feels real, as they struggle to make it in their respective careers while also making time for each other.
The most intriguing part of this film is that despite the musical numbers, the occasional break from objective reality into a Disney-esque dream state, at the end we’re introduced to a concrete reality we’ve all experienced: It’s possible that the human condition’s innermost need for achieving happiness can be reached by more than one road, but that some roads only have room for one person. The most real part of La La Land is that it ends not on a happy note or a sad one, but a bittersweet one.
Final rating 9/10.
For TMN, I am Paul Kirkwood.