Charming, but no masterpiece

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Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in Damien Chazelle’s widely acclaimed La La Land.

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SCREEN: La La Land – Suncoast Casino, Durban
(7/10)
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER

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THERE seems to be quite a divide between those who adore La La Land, some to the point of fanaticism, and those who, well, shrug, admit is it not without charm, but wonder how on Earth it managed to rake in a record 14 Oscar nominations after cleaning up at the Golden Globe Awards.

As a fan of musicals, I truly wanted to leave the cinema with a wide grin, a spring in my step and a song in my heart, but La La Land, sadly, edged me to the side of those left wondering what all the fuss is about.

Don’t get me wrong – it is a sweet and novel film, with some wonderful flourishes. It is a loving, sometimes inspired and well-directed contemporary salute to the golden age of the movie musical.

Munch away at your popcorn anticipating Fred and Ginger, or Kelly and Reynolds, however, and you will be let down. The dancing is mostly mediocre, as it was intended to be, I believe, flowing as it does from the naturalness of the story.

Singing, too, is expectedly quite amateurish and, with the possible exception of the recurring, melancholy, piano-led ballad, City of Stars, winner of a Golden Globe, songs are quite forgettable.

Yes, there are tips of the hat to everything from Singing in the Rain, Grease, Sweet Charity, Moulin Rouge and even brief nods to On the Town, An American in Paris and Funny Face – and it is much fun to spot them. Just don’t expect a knockout spectacle in the style of the grand MGM gems of yesteryear.

That all said, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling – both Golden Globe winners for their performances here – have a good chemistry and make a handsome couple under the direction of young Damien Chazalle, who previously gave us Whiplash.

The film, which opened the Venice Film Festival, has wide-eyed Stone as Mia, an aspiring actress and playwright; and the broody Gosling as Sebastian, a jazz purist in jackets and silk ties, who is a devoted pianist who dreams of opening his own club to keep alive the art form about which he is passionate.

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A scene from La La Land which has 14 Oscar nominations.

The two meet in a freeway traffic jam in Los Angeles – before which commuters leave their cars for a one-shot song and dance on the road and vehicle rooftops – and over the course of the next year they keep running into each other, then connect and try to make a go of their relationship while also reaching for their dreams.

I enjoyed the nostalgia and the performances, the bright costumes, a lot of the choreography by So You Think You Can Dance’s Mandy Moore, and particularly liked the bittersweet final 10 minutes or so. But a record 14 Oscar nominations, marking a record tie with Titanic and All About Eve, is a bit much, methinks.

La La Land also features appearances by singer-songwriter-pianist John Legend (as a band vocalist) and Whiplash Oscar-winner J K Simmons (as a disgruntled restaurateur).

The film stands to take golden statuettes for best picture, director, actor, actress, original screenplay (Chazelle) and score (Justin Hurwitz) on February 26. It is also a strong contender for the awards for cinematography (Linus Sandgren), costume design (Mary Zophres), editing, sound editing, production design and sound mixing.

Its other nominations are for original song – for City of Stars and Audition (The Fools Who Dream), composed by Justin Hurwitz, with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

For the record, Ben-Hur, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Titanic are tied in first place with 11 Oscar wins each, while West Side Story follows closely with 10 wins.

La La Land is also showing in and around Durban at Gateway, the Pavilion and Watercrest cinemas.


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