Movie Review: La La Land

It took me an awfully long time to get around to La La Land, mainly because I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when watching it. Nothing I’d heard about the movie particularly piqued my interest. I knew it was a musical, but I also knew it was up for a bunch of Oscars. One of the reasons for the noms was (from what I’d heard) it was kind of a tribute to Hollywood itself. I knew it was a movie I’d get around to eventually, but I was in no hurry, expecting it to be mainly a fluff piece.

Yesterday was Denisa’s birthday, however, and she wanted to watch a movie she’d enjoy. This seemed like the perfect time to pop La La Land in.

Having now watched it, I’m still not sure what I think. On the one hand, it didn’t quite work as a musical for me. It takes the classic boy meets girl trope, and it kind of meanders around for a while, leaving me wondering what in the world it’s going to do with itself. Halfway through the movie, it could easily just be done, since the boy has met the girl, and they’ve gotten together successfully. In fact, I even paused the movie then to double check it was only half done.

The second half is much lighter on songs, and it takes that classic boy meets girl trope and then stomps all over it in a manner that’s not very fun for those of us who like the trope. On the one hand, I’m all for breaking out of well worn paths, but on the other, I feel like people generally turn to genres for a certain experience, and when you don’t just deliver that experience, but spit in its face, then you’ve broken an important contract.

This wouldn’t be as big of a deal if I’d had a real sense of what La La Land was actually doing and trying to accomplish. I kept trying to figure it out. It’s a classic movie musical done for the modern day! It’s a deconstruction  of the boy meets girl musical! It’s . . . I have no clue.

It was well acted, and I enjoyed the musical numbers and the songs themselves. I really loved a lot about the movie, but I felt like I couldn’t really embrace it. Like it was holding me at arm’s length.

So going into the final section of the movie, I was still really up in the air about the film. And somehow, that final section made it all come together. Spoilers follow with an explanation, but if you want to stop here, know that I gave the movie a 9/10. The ambivalence couldn’t quite be overcome by how much I loved the last section, but it was such a good last section . . .

Basically, I felt like that coda encapsulated an experience I’ve had a few times in my life. Seeing a person or a place years after I’d last seen it or them, and suddenly been whisked away on a journey of “what if.” Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling drifted apart. Took different paths. And then they see each other accidentally, just for a few minutes. And in one great sequence, we see what their lives might have been like if they’d stayed together. It’s touching and sad and thought provoking enough that Denisa and I stayed up way too late talking about the concept and our own experiences with it. (What if we’d taken different classes in Fall 2000 and hadn’t ended up in the same German Phonetics class? What if we’d just sat in different seats in that class? You can quickly come up with a thousand reasons why it would have been so easy for things not to work out with you and your spouse/friend/etc.)

Granted, I realize this has been depicted in movies before. Sliding Doors comes to mind. But that wasn’t nearly as impactful for me, likely because the entire first 4/5 of La La Land is devoted to making that final 1/5 pack as big of a punch as possible.

I don’t have that kind of sequence happen in a movie too often, so when I do encounter one, I take note. To me, it was more like poetry than movie making. The whole film became a vehicle for delivering that final sequence. I’m sure there are other people who didn’t really care for it that much, but for me, it made the whole movie.

Was it all a Hollywood fluff piece? I can see the argument. I can see how it catered to Hollywood and actors. But I felt like in the end, it was much more than that. Because it didn’t really prepare me for what it was doing, I don’t think it was a perfect movie by any stretch. But it’s one I’ll remember for a long time, just for that sequence.

How about you? What did you think of the movie, back when you saw it? I’d love to hear some more opinions.


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