La La Land review: by Rob Stoakes
UK certification: 12A
Scriptwriters! Directors! Anyone who works in film! Are you reading? Well, of course you are, the only reason movie reviews exist is to stroke your egos. I have some special advice for you, one storyteller to another. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Now, allow me to put my advice in patronising capital letters.
SHOW, DON’T TELL!
I am sick and tired of moviemakers who forget that film is a visual medium. I play video games, and by far the worst part of any video game is when I’m not allowed to play the game anymore while a mini-movie tells me what the plot is. Every gamer hates that bit! So why is it acceptable for films to start thinking that they’re books?
SCENE – OFFICE FILLED WITH CIGAR SMOKE
SHOOTING INSTRUCTIONS – POINT CAMERA AT FACES
Underpaid Actor – “This woman. I recognise her. We used to be partners before she went into non-specific crimes.”
UNDERPAID ACTOR LOOKS OUT OF WINDOW
Overpaid Actor – “Sir, when you look out of the window, it looks like you’re looking at a different city and thinking of a different time of your life.”
Underpaid Actor – “I’m very conflicted with having to take on an old friend who is now my enemy, especially after all of the unseen character establishing moments that we shared. Especially as you also need to take care of her son.”
Oscar Hopeful – “THUNDEROUSLY UNSUBTLE YET INACCURATE PORTRAYAL OF AUTISM!”
Overpaid Actor – “Inspiring.”
Oscar Hopeful – “CATCHPHRASE! ADORABLE CATCHPHRASE!”
Now, if you want a good example of storytelling in film, please look to La La Land, which is now your homework for the week. La La Land was created by the director of Whiplash, a film pushing for Oscars with an author surrogate bullying audiences into understanding jazz theory with J.K. Simmons in the cast as a surly man. La La Land, by contrast, is a film pushing for Oscars with an author surrogate bullying audiences into understanding jazz theory with J.K. Simmons in the UH OH SPAGHETTI-OH!
Now some directors have a particular comfort zone, and Damien Chazelle’s zone is so comfortable that he’s installed foot massagers that emit inspirational cat posters, but at least that hasn’t made him complacent. The direction is great, with fast-paced editing, decent acting, beautiful sets, great dance choreography and the script itself… well… it tells its story through visuals rather than the words. Like how films should all the time.
I’ve heard people say that dancing in musicals is pointless primarily because it’s a bit silly for people to randomly dance and sing in the street. But that’s what the story is told through. In an action film, you should be able to tell a lot about a character by the way they fight, and in a musical, they just replace bullets and blood with skirts and sambas. Bullets, Blood, Skirts and Sambas, incidentally, is the name of my series of erotic detective novels.
Now, this may or may not be a criticism, but I should note that musicals have the same problems as horror movies; the technicals can be so good that your eyes pop out and dance along with the characters but if the songs don’t click, then you will straight up not like it.
Now, La La Land does at least go beyond most musicals as far as tying the songs into the film itself go (listen out for what instruments are playing when certain characters are on screen) but either this is either sweetening an already delicious cake or poisoning a septic tank. For the record, I like about two-thirds of the songs.
Out of the six.
Yep. It’s a big Hollywood musical, two hours long, and it’s got fewer songs than a sign language class. Of them, only one is longer than three minutes, weirdly. At least the dancing is, like the rest of the movie, really, really good, and only in a way that a movie can be good.
Understand, filmmakers? Good. Now, have your next films on my desk by the end of the week, and no copying! I’m looking at you, Tarantino!
Budget: $30 million/Music: Justin Hurwitz/Length: 128 minutes