The musical film genre has been slowly fading since its peak with classic hits like The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain. Because little interest has formed towards the genre in the past few decades, Hollywood has largely forgone production on musicals for years.
With the rise of live television musicals around the holidays, however, the genre is seemingly gaining traction within the general public.
NBC and Fox have delivered several musicals on television that have been well-received by critics and audiences alike. Whiplash director Damien Chazelle saw this as an opportunity and decided to bring the musical back into the Hollywood conversation.
Chazelle wrote and directed La La Land, a film about two lovers finding themselves and each other in Los Angeles during the present day. The leads are the charming Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, whose palpable chemistry stretches throughout several films in which they have co-starred.
In the film, Mia (Stone) is introduced as a barista working in a film studio. She is constantly auditioning and trying to spark some sort of acting career. Throughout her journey, she comes across pianist and aspiring jazz club owner Sebastian (Gosling). The two predictably do not initially get along, but they later begin a love affair transcending the shackles of their lofty goals in the city.
La La Land has the potential to be a phenomenal and influential musical. Unfortunately, the “musical” aspect of the film vanishes somewhere in between the second and third acts. With two fun and exciting songs to begin the film, the tone seemed to be rich with song and dance numbers. This, however, was not the case.
Instead, the film focused mostly on the two leads in what seems like a soft, jazzy soundtrack. Stone and Gosling shine as the couple, but their singing skills are limited. Gosling is entirely unconvincing in his singing, while Stone is not much better. The only redeeming vocal efforts were those of Stone in the climax of the film. Though her skills are not quite on par with singers today, the emotion she conveyed through the performance is brilliant and may very well garner her Oscar attention.
While the musical numbers were not as effective as they could have been, the more intimate scenes stood out. La La Land was much more a tale of two people and their city than a spectacle like most popular musicals.
Chazelle’s direction was the most impressive feat of the film. The director flawlessly incorporated nostalgia of older musical film by using historical locations in Los Angeles, as well as filming in the specific style he did. The visuals are some of the best in film this year. He captured the emotions of the city, the individuals, as well as their relationship to one another.
The final third of the film certainly dragged; however, the epilogue came as a reminder that this film was indeed a musical. It was a tremendous way to end the film and to distinguish the musical portions from the reality of previous scenes.
La La Land was not a revolutionary musical or film in general. It does, however, instill a sense of hope for a fading genre. With strong performances from Stone and Gosling and a sharp direction from Chazelle, the team delivers an exciting, entertaining, and realistic depiction of what “making it in LA” looks like. While imperfect, the film has much to offer for the future of the musical.