Visual Aesthetics: 8
Auditory Aesthetics: 7
Audience Assumptions: No familiarity
La La Land
Part One: Hat Does Not Like Musicals
This will be a short one I think because while there is a fair bit to say about this film, as someone who lacks both much interest in and knowledge of musicals, I think what I add to the conversation will be limited. Regardless, I enjoyed this film, and I think most audiences will also like it on some level. The visuals are stunning, and while the music is catchy and well-written, I found that the framing and shots, and especially the use of color in the lighting and costuming, really stole the show. The film uses several key cinematic styles, notably the dynamic long takes that capture most of the dance numbers.
This is exemplified in the first moments of the film, which are captured in a bright musical sequence placed in a highway traffic jam. If the first five minutes of the film don’t capture you in some way, it is a fair bet that this is probably not the film for you. I find it refreshing that a film can essentially preview itself in those first few minutes, and do so accurately.
Part Two: Why Hat Does Not Like Musicals
I mentioned that I am not a huge fan of musicals, and part of this is because I find they tend to have fairly simple plots. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with having a simple plot, but when the choreographed music sequences take up a significant amount of the run time, I can’t help but feel that the plot is neglected when a song fails to provide exploration of a character, especially when it can’t progress the plot linearly. This isn’t necessarily the song’s fault; songs by their very nature are repetitive, and a large part of the enjoyment audiences have in songs is their raw emotional power. They can be inherently pleasurable, and that is to some extent the appeal of musicals in the first place.
I can’t deny that the songs in La La Land are emotional, but I couldn’t help but feel that many of them lacked a certain depth. Perhaps it was just my inexperience with the genre, but except for the last song sequence and one or two in the middle, I found it difficult to see more than the plain actions of the characters and the words of the song. This is especially perplexing given that the film shows it knows how to add depth at several moments elsewhere, such as during the scene at the jazz club, or Mia’s various film auditions.
Part Three: Somehow, Hat Still Likes This Musical
The basic plot is a romance between two struggling artists, one an aspiring pianist and one an aspiring actor, both currently at the bottom of their respective career ladders. While romance is a large part of the story, it comes to fruition before the halfway point, and the rest of the film is ultimately about the difficulty the two leads have in resolving their career interests alongside their desire for one another. I’ll give the film credit for exploring themes that are a little deeper than a typical romance, but I wouldn’t say it does these themes justice. As entertaining as the first twenty minutes of the film are, I feel like they could have easily been trimmed.
My biggest issue throughout the film was that it tended to lack stakes, especially for the first half. Neither of the leads seems to pursue their careers with the tenacity that most people who go into similar fields must have, and yet they succeed as though no one else in the world can do what they do. As in many Hollywood films, money never seems to be an issue, even though both characters start out with few prospects, and even their romance develops nearly without a hitch. From the start of the film, it seems as though the romantic tension between these characters will be the focus of the story, culminating in their falling in love, but that happens early on, and once it does, all one can do is wait for things to go wrong somehow.
I’m not sure I can say this film addresses either its romantic or occupational aspects realistically, but it at least tries in some of its later scenes. Ultimately, I would recommend La La Land based on its beautiful visuals and Los Angeles aesthetic with the caveat that the story is lacking, but in this case, I think that’s enough.