Film is a relatively simple art-form but there are a few basic requirements:
- A (good) story.
- Interesting and believable characters
Er, that’s it.
If it’s a musical it’s a little more demanding because that requires songs, preferably with hummable melodies and audible and well-crafted lyrics.
Think of the great musicals that live in the memory – The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, Camelot, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Top Hat, On the Town, Grease, Saturday Night Fever; they all have great songs, good stories and interesting and believable characters. Even Mamma Mia which was a dull film had some of Abba’s best songs and they will never fade, even when sung by Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth or er, the other one.
All films require one to suspend one’s disbelief and, although difficult, it can be achieved. With musicals this is even harder – there’s no good reason for believing that King Arthur and Guinevere and all the knights of the round table used to burst into song but Camelot is so good that it allows you to suspend your disbelief, even while Richard Harris is mangling the songs. Even Les Miserables, which I hated, managed to make you believe (just) that prisoners and paupers, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and hard-done women on the barricades in war-torn Paris might suddenly burst into song at inopportune moments. And once you’ve heard Anne Hathaway singing ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ you’ll never forget it.
La La Land, which for some reason is being garlanded with plaudits and touted as a likely Oscar winner, fails on all these counts. It’s boring, the story is dull, you don’t care about the characters who are neither interesting nor particularly believable and the songs are weak and instantly forgettable. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are pleasant, okay to look at and passable dancers, but they’re not Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; dammit they’re not even John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
The film opens with a traffic jam on an LA motorway; the cars are grid-locked and going nowhere. For some reason first one person and then another and then another gets out of their car, starts to sing (the song is forgettable, the lyrics inaudible and the voices thin and weedy), and then dance around jumping over and around the cars. Now I’ve been in a traffic jam on the M25 and after about 10 minutes of no movement, a few people got out to stretch their legs, ask the reason for the delay and drink some water. A few even kicked a football around but I think they were friends already. There was no singing and no dancing. After 2 minutes of the film my wife and I looked at each other and started to count the minutes until we could safely leave. It was that cringe-making.
In the traffic jam are Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who see each other but don’t dance. And so begins their sort of romance. She’s an aspiring actress, he’s an aspiring jazz musician. There are various scenes that are tacked together – we see her with her flat-mates and they sing a forgettable song for no clear reason. Later they’re at a Hollywood party with a lot of people (who are they? Nobody knows) who all break into a forgettable song, again for no apparent reason. I can’t tell you what happens in the end because we didn’t stay. After an hour we couldn’t stand it any longer and left. Maybe it’s like Love Story and one of the characters gets cancer and dies at the end. I don’t know and I guess I’ll never find out. Go on – ask me if I give a shit?
There were two funny lines. Ryan Gosling looks vaguely (very vaguely) like the now late George Michael and at one point they’re at a party and he’s walking away and she says ‘hey George Michael.’ Well, I thought it was funny – talk about bad timing.
And later they’re walking along, getting to know each other and he talks to her about jazz and she says ‘I hate jazz.’ If you’re as much of a fan of Extras as I am you’ll know why that is funny.
Lots of people seem to love this film and it’s got great reviews so maybe it’s just my wife and I who didn’t get it. Who knows – you might love it. My advice? Go and see Manchester by the Sea instead.