For a start, I know I’m somewhat late to this debate. However, I’ve only just seen “La La Land”, and I didn’t like it, in fact I found it crushingly dull, and I think I can explain why this is in terms that I haven’t read elsewhere.
There have been many people who have critiqued the film on the basis of value judgements: it’s racist or at least racially insensitive because it deals with jazz through the lens of a white guy; or it’s sexist because of the dynamic between the two main characters and how they play out in the plot; or that it’s bad because there are no gay characters and Los Angeles is full of homosexuals. I’m not interested in talking about any of those things because none of them had anything to do with why I didn’t enjoy the film.
I should mention now that there will almost certainly be spoilers ahead for those of you who haven’t seen “La La Land” yet.
The film is centred on two characters: Sebastian and Mia. Every other character in the film is entirely incidental; we know only as much about them as is required for their brief appearance in the movie, or their role as a cog in moving the film forwards. The film, if I’m judging by the final ten minutes at least, is supposed to be about the love affair between Seb and Mia that breaks down along the way and whether or not this can be construed as a tragedy in light of the fact that both characters achieve their dreams yet end up apart.
The bulk of the film is taken up with their relationship; whatever there is in terms of a plot in “La La Land” is based on what unfolds between the two of them. And yet, not only does nothing really happen between them, we are never given any solid idea of why they should be together. More than that, we are never given any reason to emotionally invest in them being together. They don’t seem to be in love with each other; they have little in common; they appear to be little more than stop gaps in each other’s lives. The scenes that are meant to convince us of the opposite of what I’ve just put forth are all montages and/or musical sequences. Technically speaking, I don’t have a problem with this; but in “La La Land”, they just don’t work in terms of getting us to see their relationship as something worth saving. All of the dialogue scenes between Seb and Mia (which comprise seemingly about three quarters of the film’s dialogue altogether) are riven with tension and conflict. The only time we really see one of them go out of their way for the other is when Seb comes to Boulder to “save” Mia; but one, that’s very late in the film and probably too late to save us caring about them as a couple and two, they don’t try and save this for us anyhow. Seb could just as easily be her gay best friend coming to Colorado to tell her about the audition and convince her to do it; there is no sense in him doing this because he needs her and wants to be together with her again that comes across at all.
At the very end, when Mia sees Seb in the club and the film goes into an alternative reality with Mia and Seb married with a child together, I couldn’t be moved by this in the way many who like or even love this film were. If the film had managed to get me to invest even marginally in them as a couple, and they had both achieved their dreams but had ended up alone, then I’m sure that scene, even if the film had all of its other faults going against it, would have moved me and I would have had to admit the film had something to it. But beyond all of the faults in terms of getting us to care about Seb and Mia as a couple the film presents us with, we find out that Mia is married (to a man she seems to be more in love with than she ever was with Seb, even in the short time the film puts us together with them) with a daughter she clearly loves. Am I supposed to buy into the idea that Mia wants to wish her child and marriage out of the picture for some life with Seb that never materialised? I just couldn’t get behind that myself.
In summary, the problem with “La La Land” is that it is all about emotionally investing a couple that appear to have a bad relationship, one that in the end has little to do with where either of them end up in life. What else is there to the story? Two good looking people achieve their very ambitious dreams with very little difficulty. The constant references to other films – “Weekend”, “Rebel Without a Cause”, anything with Ingrid Bergman in it – just reminded me of the fact that I was not watching a great film at present. In fact, I was not even watching a very good one.