Sunday, January 08, 2017

La La Land

I talk about wanting to see how La La Land holds up to a second viewing in the review, but I kind of leave out a big part of the reason why I figure my opinion might change: About an hour and a half or so into the movie, whatever stomach bug was in my system decided to make itself known, and it was a good one, the sort that finds a nice central spot in your digestive tract and creates pressure in both directions. Not great under the best of circumstances, but when a movie ends on a “some time later” epilogue that not only seems wholly unnecessary but just generally counter to the rest of what the film is trying to do, well, that’s going to come off even worse.

Made for one of the few times I didn’t stay in my seat through the end credits, though, and instead dashed for the men’s room. Though I was (mostly) good for the usual Wednesday-night trip to the comic shop, I had to hit two restrooms on the way home, worried about the fact that, even in a relatively small apartment, getting to the toilet from bed means changing directions five times (a straight shot doesn’t upset your stomach as much), and worked from home the next day.

Understand, I don’t hold La La Land responsible for this. I do, however, wonder if it has any hand in my being more willing to focus on the shortcomings of a movie I mostly enjoyed than the parts I did like.

La La Land

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 January 2017 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

I’m moderately curious what Damien Chazelle’s La La Land will look like on a second viewing, because there’s something about it that doesn’t quite click on the first: It’s got moments of delight and wit, and it certainly looks great, exactly the way a traditional musical brought into the twenty-first century should. It’s just hard to shake the feeling that it’s an assembly of pieces of movies that Chazelle would like to make and emulate rather than something truly its own.

It is, at its heart, a love story between Mia (Emma Stone), a would-be actress chasing down auditions while working at the Starbucks on the Warner Brothers lot, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a piano player who dreams of opening his own jazz club. Their paths cross a couple of times before they actually talk long enough to see how in sync they are in a sarcastic but not particularly mean-spirited exchange. As the interchangeable Los Angeles seasons pass, he joins an old classmate’s ensemble despite it not exactly being traditional jazz, and she decides to write her own one-woman show.

This is kind of familiar territory, and Chazelle doesn’t bring a lot of new, interesting details to it. An early conversation with Sebastian’s never-glimpsed-again sister can be summarized as “does this girl you want to set me up with like jazz, because that is the one thing that defines me as a character?”, and Mia’s soon-to-be-dumped boyfriend and the other couple they’re having dinner with are the laziest business-buzzword-mouthing placeholders imaginable. The L.A. and showbiz jokes feel recycled, only occasionally having a new punchline. The film often seems to coast on its leads for the “Spring” and “Summer” legs, but when it has to introduce conflict and challenges for the relationship, what the audience gets hardly feels personal, leading to some last-act back-and-forthing and what feels like the end of one Jacques Demy film tacked onto another.

Full review on EFC.

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