The critics promised me that 'La La Land' would give me 'a vitamin-D boost of sunshine' (the Guardian) and leave me with 'tears in [my] eyes, a song in [my] heart' (the Telegraph). But all this song and dance about the film was one of the biggest celebrations of mediocrity I’ve ever seen.
Taking its cue from old Hollywood musicals and 1960s classics, 'La La Land' has a visceral retro vibe to it, evident from its jazzy tap numbers and wardrobe choices. Thankfully it didn’t pine too hard for the good ol’ days and included some modern touches of humour, like the fact that our heroine gives our leading male the finger in the opening scene.
Unfortunately the irony of the line 'it’s another day of sun', the hook from the film’s opening song which takes place amidst a traffic jam on an LA highway, was lost on me, overshadowed by the excessive cheese of the number itself. The whole thing left me with the uncomfortable impression that I was about to watch the the love child of 'High School Musical' and 'Glee'.
The next song involves Mia, played by Stone, being coerced by her three roommates to attend a party, which didn’t impress me any better. As they dance their way through their lavish four-bed apartment, I was less interested in the song itself and more astonished at just how impressive the apartment looked. Like her roommates, Mia is an aspiring actress in LA working as a barista between auditions; how is it that she is able to afford such a well-furnished, spacious and clean apartment? How much are they paying baristas in Hollywood? Based on my own experience of rented accommodation, it must be significantly higher than Edinburgh is paying its bartenders.
Ryan Gosling plays the wistful Sebastian, a jazz musician determined to save the genre from extinction. By contrast to Mia and her apparently loaded roommates, he lives a Holly Golightly-type existence in his one-bed apartment, refusing to unpack his boxes until he gets to where he wants to go – wherever that may be.
But for all their artistic struggles, Seb and Mia don’t display too many signs of financial struggle. They have the time and money to chassé their way around LA, and make gourmet meals for one another. Not once do we ever see Mia wear the same vintage outfit twice, and, for all his dancing, Seb’s shoes remain polished.
They might be two of the most charming faces in Hollywood, but Gosling and Stone are actors, not singers. Stone’s voice is nice enough, if a little weak in parts, and Gosling at times verges on sounding flat. I was impressed to learn that Gosling spent three intense months learning to play the piano for the role, but for someone playing an under-appreciated jazz pianist whose potential is unrealised and overlooked, Seb’s compositions weren’t really anything special. Impressive for a novice pianist, but Gosling wasn’t playing himself in the film, a fact that was overlooked in this instance.
'La La Land' did showcase some beautiful dance sequences and visual work, but my appreciation of these aspects of the film was dulled by my indignation at one of its most prevalent themes: if you are not being your authentic self 100% of the time then you are a sellout. Despite playing in a successful music group and earning a substantial income, the turning point of the movie comes when Mia and Seb fall out about the fact that Seb thinks he is better than the music he is playing. The argument crescendos when both accuse the other of being inauthentic, which results in Seb burning their fancy home-cooked meal and Mia storming out of their cosy apartment. I’m sorry, but inauthenticity is a rich person’s problem.
Because the experts raved about it, I feel I should have appreciated the movie more, but when the lights turned on and the credits rolled, I realised I wasn’t alone in my indifference. 'That was alright' mumbled the group of girls in the row behind me as they switched on their phones. The friend of the girl sitting to my left who, incidentally, fell asleep during the movie and woke herself up with the sound of her own snoring, said it was 'okay'. There were some guys in the audience, but most of them looked as though they had been dragged by their girlfriends to see some sort of remake of 'The Notebook'.
Anthony Seaton was right to say we should think before we assign someone the title of 'expert'. Experts are calling 'La La Land' a 'masterpiece' (the Guardian), but after seeing it for myself I think that they are in a 'La La Land' of their own.