There was a cloud of self-doubt in my initial opinion of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, as the film entered into a wider release, and the adoration and hype began to flood in. Proving itself to be the cinematic powerhouse of 2016 and paving the way as the top contender in this year’s awards race. My recent viewing of Whiplash compelled me to think that possibly, I had misjudged his latest film, that possibly something was lost in translation in that initial viewing. It does not help that my sister could not fathom how I was unable to find myself falling for the characters, artistic dreamers who are driven by their respect and admiration for nostalgia, it essentially defines a significant portion of who I am.
So, with this charged energy that surrounds me and the film, I decided to endure through a second viewing, hoping that this time, I am able to see positive qualities that were previously missed. My biggest fear of this second viewing was that my expectations would be defied and that it would just further reinforce the issues that I had with the film in that first viewing. Indeed, that was the case here, as I sat through this film, realising further of my detachment of the characters. Seb (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) seem to possess the qualities that would charm any soul with a heart, but once one digs beyond their surfaces, what exists is a core that fails to capture human complexity and lacking of a compelling dramatic arc.
Sure the deep yearning of a dreamer is the primary hook that attaches the two characters together, and it propels the dramatic stretch of its character’s journeys, but that in itself does not pose forth any riveting criticism of the constricting and destructive atmosphere that is Hollywood, in which the film’s title refers to. Chazelle wraps the film in this warm blanket that is effective to a certain extent, but in softening its bite lies a weakened foundation of its storytelling. Nostalgia is a wonderful storytelling tool, as it evokes an emotional spark on the vulnerable audiences to access their own tendencies and experiences. However, when inserted without a counteracting balance, it leaves much to be desired in one’s need to connect with the character’s experiences. La La Land seems to be a film that is afraid to really sink its characters at their most vulnerable, as despite the streaming tears from Mia or the defeated condition of Seb, the film fails to completely sell its sadness.
There isn’t a doubt that the detachment I feel for the characters is the primary source of my dissatisfaction, but to say La La Land is a complete failure is a ridiculous statement. One can find the flaring and intimate passion that Chazelle has for his cinematic and musical influences, in that every moment seems to recall something beautiful, a reference of a treasured memory. La La Land is a visual and aural marvel that allows the film to rise itself above mere competence and showcasing a transportive experience that is almost unlike any other; not one of its collection of songs falter and even after the film itself has ended, they manage to linger in your brain as one unconsciously whistles City of Stars or hum Someone In The Crowd. This is Chazelle’s most accomplished film from a technical standpoint, a nostalgic ode that simply does not bring forth minor callbacks, but instead recites them with synonymous energy and magic as their influences. If there was anything that would attract me back to the film, it would be due to the aesthetic that it has carefully created.
Certainly, I am in the minority with the film; the frontrunner of this year’s Academy Awards, the monster that essentially consumed the Golden Globes. I doubt its momentum would dampen in the weeks to come, and certainly it would come out of awards season with an effortless sweep. It is only unfortunate that I am not part of that fandom wave that it currently has for itself, and the likelihood of myself to revert my opinion is far less likely with this second viewing, where its inherent flaws in its characterisation became emphasised and amplified my irritation and disappointment. You just can’t please everyone I guess.