|Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land|
Damien Chazelle’s La La Land has won several critics’ prizes and is sure to be an Academy Award contender, which is good news for those of us who love musicals since its success is likely to generate new ones. But I’m afraid I couldn’t get up much enthusiasm for the movie. It’s amiable and well-intentioned, it looks lovely (Linus Sandgren lit it, and the production design is by David Wasco), and God knows you can’t fault the two charming stars, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. For this L.A.-set romantic tale of Mia, an aspiring actress who goes to auditions when she’s not working as a barista, and Sebastian, an aspiring jazz musician who wants to open his own club, where he can play the music he loves. Chazelle spins off from what must be his favorite musicals: Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Stanley Donen’s Singin’ in the Rain, Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York and (in one number) Vincente Minnelli’s An American in Paris. I adore those movies, too, but unlike them La La Land rarely leaves the ground. Chazelle, who is about to turn thirty-two, has made only two previous movies, and La La Land is an immense improvement over his last, the highly acclaimed Whiplash, which I found eminently phony from start to finish. (I didn’t buy either the college-age drummer hero, played by Miles Teller, who is so dedicated to his art that he doesn’t have time to get laid, or his sadistic teacher, played by Oscar-winning J.K. Simmons, who would have been fired years ago for his relentless abuse of his students. And I found the relationship between these two characters incomprehensible.) But La La Land just isn’t the real thing. It feels like someone’s doctoral dissertation on movie musicals.