MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone.
There is a lot of love out there for La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s original musical romance. I just didn’t feel it.
There is absolutely no doubt that this is a labor of love. Writer-director Chazelle dreamed about this film for years but was unable to get the financial backing that it required. But once his 2014 film Whiplash became an award-winning hit, he was good to go. He also secured the good will and support from his two leading stars and Gosling and Stone who both commit to their roles with grace and charm. The cinematography is beautiful and the art direction is sublime.
And – yes – the message in this movie is simple and direct: Follow your dreams and be willing to make sacrifices for what really matters.
So many people (and the majority of film critics) enjoy this film, I want to be sure to qualify my quibbles. But here they are in a few words: Story, music and one major character.
Story. There’s just not enough of it. It’s a simple story and (apart from one strong epithet) suitable for middle school age and older. Simply said, we follow two characters who are in Hollywood hoping to follow their dreams. Sebastian (Gosling) plays piano in restaurants but dreams of becoming a serious jazz musician. Mia (Stone) is an aspiring actress who hopes to make it in movies someday. The two meet, fall in love (somewhat) and consider the price to pay for success versus the compromises that might deter the fulfilment of their desires. If there were more musical numbers (or if the film were shorter), this simple story could suffice. However, there are many dry spots (especially in the second half) and it’s easy for boredom to set in. Several members of the audience at my screening entered into La La Land, enjoying moments of blissful slumber.
Music. The music isn’t really anything special. I will admit that some of the tunes grow on you with subsequent listening; maybe you want to listen to the soundtrack before seeing the movie. The film also intentionally has Gosling and Stone sing with youthful hesitation, but this artistic choice requires Stone (who has sung on Broadway in Cabaret) to underperform all of her songs. And I should add that every movie that this picture evokes is a better film than La La Land. So, if you really like this movie, check out Singing in the Rain, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, A Star Is Born (the Judy Garland version)and Rebel Without a Cause. They’re better!
The one character. It’s Sebastian, the jazz wannabe played by Ryan Gosling. He is self-absorbed and insufferable for most of the film. In an early scene Sebastian is hired to play in a restaurant over the holidays. The manager has the audacity to request Christmas songs and Sebastian’s response is to bang out the tunes in protest. Oh, yes – and Sebastian’s Big Dream is to own a jazz club named after himself!
This is as mixed a review as I’ve ever written, but I’m sure that you will want to see this movie due to its popular acclaim. It may not seem like much to simply give you permission to not fall in love with La La Land, but often such small gestures are appreciated. You may thank me later.
Three halos: A positive message about being true to creativity and possibilities.
One pitchfork: One pitchfork. (Mild PG-13 swearing with a one-time visit by the “F Bomb”.)
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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