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The first six minutes of La La Land were breathtaking: intricate dance, impressive shots, compelling characters, and rich cinematography. Certainly Broadway worthy. Then, in a blink of an eye, Mia's friends are gone, her boyfriend soon follows, Sebastian's sister disappears, and a zombie apocalypse is unleashed. The latter may not be true, but the sudden decrease in characters is certainly startling. Additionally, along with the secondary characters, Chazelle also took away the songs. Out of about seven songs, not including musical themes, two are in the first six minutes; then the film goes from a sung-through show to a mixture of a concern musical, like Hedwig, and a plain, regular movie. According to Damien Chazelle, the idea of the movie is to juxtapose the macrocosm of Los Angeles, showcasing the struggles of various aspiring performers, with the microcosm of two struggling artists, Mia and Sebastian, causing a drastic change. However, this may not have been the best directorial vision.
Although interesting, the contrast between Musical Theatre industry professionals with the below average skills of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone caused for some disappointment. Take the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers waltz scene from “Swing Time”, which served as inspiration for director Damien Chazelle, intricate steps were routine for this iconic duo; meanwhile, according to La La Land choreographer, Mandy Moore, the planetarium waltz took nearly 50 takes, much more than the intricate Another Day of Sun. The movie only goes downhill from there, reaching its lowest point in the final scene, with the unrealistic success, to say the least, of the lead characters.
Were there more compelling leads, this movie might have been more artistically successful. Much like Whiplash, also by Damien Chazelle, the secondary characters are underdeveloped and nearly nonexistent. This then poses to question whether lacking secondary characters is a conscious decision or simply a consequence of a lack of skill. Were there powerful leads, the movie could have gone on its positive trajectory and Chazelle’s vision accomplished. In reality, however, Mia’s character sags, and, when Sebastian’s career launches, the exponential development we had with her stagnates. Granted, she is supposed to represent a type of person, more so than an individual, and, granted, Sebastian needed his character development, but did the audience really learn much from the flash forward sequences or did they just lose the little empathy they had gained for the male protagonist? Chazelle could have used Sebastian’s band friends for some development, or his MIA sisters, or maintained Mia’s friends to discuss her struggles, but his rejections of his secondary characters took a toll.
However, I will say that La La Land is entertaining, and isn’t that the point of musicals? Grease featured cringe-worthy singing, legends like Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood were dubbed in their most memorable performances, and La La Land, as an original piece, is a breath of fresh air among the stagnant musical film scene, so it seems unreasonable that a movie with decent, partially live singing is being deemed weak just because the first two numbers are “too great”. My father has seen La La Land about 5 times, and, although he is not a measure of a general trend, this is a man who never sees movies five times: there is some appeal to audiences whether we like it or not. Additionally, after several movies together, Emma Stones and Ryan Gosling's chemistry is undeniably captivating, and the inspiration obtained by Jacques Demy helped a memorable, even if flawed, film. One must also recognize that what seemed stagnant to some was perceived a breathtakingly beautiful to others. With that, I ‘d like to pose the question: Do you think La La Land deserved the Oscar?