La La Land is the darling of Hollywood right now. It’s received the most Oscar nominations in history, tied with All About Eve and Titanic at 14, and it has good odds of sweeping many of the biggest awards. And as much as I want Lin Manuel Miranda to get his EGOT, even I couldn’t be unhappy with a victory for Audition as Best Song.
So, for the first time in many years, I actually went to see an Oscar-nominated movie. A beloved musical should have been a guaranteed hit for me. But after seeing La La Land, I’m mostly just confused. Yes, Sebastian and Mia’s theme is gorgeous, and I absolutely love Audition, and the colors are amazing, but overall… La La Land is boring. It has a great concept, but the actual execution of the plot felt lacking. It’s as though the movie needed another editing run to bring the characters and their struggles into focus and allow it to meet its potential. As is, it felt like a bunch of musical set-pieces, and not much emotion in between.
I suppose my problem was that I didn’t click with the characters and their relationship, and without that, there wasn’t much to hold the movie together. Haley Freeman for the Guardian said that Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian is “every bad date you ever had“, and I have to say I agree. Sebastian is too smug-hipster to be totally likeable. He’s the “I’m too cool to do this job to pay the bills so I’ll play the music I want and get fired” guy. The “I’m in a bad mood so I’ll be really rude” guy. The “encourage your girlfriend to do a one woman show and then not show up for no good reason and not even really apologise” guy. That last one in particular feels unforgivable, and him encouraging her to go back and audition for a casting director doesn’t make it all okay.
Mia felt much more emotionally compelling to me, and some of her moments were enough to bring me to tears. Her audition song was heartbreaking and perfect. But even then, her story as a whole felt unfocussed. It needed something more.
I did really like the concept (spoiler alert) that the protagonists don’t end up together. They both achieve their dreams, and they help each other on that path, but in the end, they can’t achieve them together. It’s not a destructive “love conquers all” plot where one of them chooses to give up their dreams to allow the other to succeed, but one where they realise, in the end, this just isn’t going to work. I also liked the concept of the ending sequence, where we see how everything would have been if things had gone the way they were supposed to. If they had been less flawed, if things had happened as they might have hoped or imagined, if.
But, again, I liked the concept. I’m not sure it worked as executed. The “five years later”, the suddenly different life, the extended alternate reality sequence… they all felt out of place to me. Another disjointed part of a disjointed movie that needed another editing pass to fulfil its magical potential.
La La Land was visually gorgeous, but it was boring. The plot didn’t feel cohesive. It was more about the look than the story. And as much as I adored all the block colors, that’s not enough to carry a movie.
NB: I also have some more in-depth thoughts about the song Audition, which I wrote about on my personal blog.