There is nothing like a great movie musical – and La La Land is nothing like a great movie musical. This ambitious yet inert mess seems to grab a dozen different styles from classic musicals, but fails to find its own personality.
Set on the fringes of Los Angeles’ entertainment scene, the story focuses on the rocky relationship between would-be barista and aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and the obsessed jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling). She is an endless skein of embarrassing auditions for mediocre roles in worthless film and television productions while he is pursuing a jazz apotheosis that has no contemporary audience. Their relationship is strictly Movie 101 Cute and you don’t need to be Miss Cleo to predict how it all turns out.
One wishes – indeed, one desires – La La Land’s failings to be on a grand camp scale of Mame or At Long Last Love, so the audience can at least embrace the shortcomings of the production. But the characters are dreary and one-dimensional and writer/director Damien Chazelle’s big musical numbers are so obviously plumbing the camera movements and editing such diverse cinematic talents as Vincente Minnelli, Bob Fosse and Jacques Demy that it feels as if La La Land is an act of plagiarism rather than a work of art – albeit with Dancing with the Stars-level choreography and a tinny score. It is hard to recall a musical that has been so thoroughly unlikable as this one.
As for the cast, Gosling is no one’s idea of a song and dance man, but at least he looks good on camera. Stone has a passable voice, but she left her charisma in the dressing room. John Legend gives the closest thing to a real performance, both as an actor and a singer, as a jazz/R&B star who lifts Gosling’s character out of poverty for a commercially (if not artistically) lucrative gig.
La La Land is strictly a one-note bore.