31 yr.-old writer/director Damien Chazelle, fresh from the accolades given Whiplash, (his relentless examination of the near destruction of a young student percussionist) weaves this dreamy ode to that oft-maligned film genre the musical. Armed with Justin Hurwitz’s conventionally pleasant musical score, the lush cinematography of Linus Sandgren, (American Hustle, Joy) visually striking production design by David Wasco (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill #1) and a small army of sprightly young dancers, Chazelle has fashioned a real enigma - -an unabashedly romantic effort to re-create the glory years of those song & dance musicals popularized more than half a century ago. Long on gorgeous images but short on credible insights, La La Land has garnered 7 Golden Globe Awards and nudged the careers of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in potentially uncharted directions.
The leads cross paths in the film’s first reel in that highly improbable way which became the staple of storylines in mid-20th century examples of the genre. They’re meant to be star-crossed lovers, so initial mutual irritation must give way to awkward advances, followed by the dizzying perfection of romance. He’s a struggling jazz pianist with a burning desire to resurrect a famous West Coast jazz club; she’s an aspiring actress/writer whose rejections have pushed her towards making a career change. Neither Gosling nor Stone possess striking vocal or dancing ability, but the director resolutely demands that his audience minimize those shortcomings in order to concentrate on the dreamy sentimentality that pervades his movie’s every scene.
Thanks to its refreshing visual elan, La La Land’s first half doesn’t make for tough sledding; but the script takes far too long to plumb the shallow depths of young love in the big city found, lost, and then reprised in a thrice-repeated ending. As the credits roll, the overall impression is painfully simple; far too much of an initial good thing.
That said, much of La La Land’s attraction lies in its skillful application of movie-making techniques that have emerged since the genre all but disappeared in the 1950”s. One’s left wondering what talents like Astaire, Rogers, Kelly and Charisse could have produced if they had access to the wizardry of contemporary Hollywood moviemaking.
The Verdict? French pastries make for delicious desserts - -but not when they’re the sole item on the menu.
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