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Why I hate La La Land (and just about every other musical)

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As a rule I freakin’ hate musicals. They’re boring – packed with insincerity as bubbly people sing and dance about life’s miseries in an “it’ll be alright if we sing long enough” way. Fairy floss for the eyes and ears. I’d rather stick bamboo slivers under my nails than go to one.

My guilty secret though is that I did enjoy Pitch Perfect – the first one – a lot, and I am still partial to many of the classics – from Sound of Music to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or Jungle Book (the very hep 1967 version) and the Wizard of Oz.

I’ve walked out of Cats at the theatre after a mere 15 minutes of enduring the biggest pile of stink masquerading as live entertainment I’ve ever witnessed. In short, I’m like the King of Swamp Castle – if you break out in song part way through a movie, I’ll shut that down quick smart.

With all the buzz and quite a few “must see it” recommendations from my friends I thought I had better give La La Land a go. I regret to report that it only confirmed my preconceptions, in spite of the smouldering presence of Gosling and Stone – two of the most in demand and best actors around at the moment.

So what went wrong? Where do I start? Oh yes, the opening number.

Cheesy beyond all expectations. A pile-up of people in freeway traffic are happy to be stuck there, in spite of the horns klaxoning away. Brightly coloured, far too smiley, bright young things bound over cars singing weakly about nothing in particular. It’s only excuse for existing was to establish the one in a million coincidence of the two main characters meeting from having to sit through that bumph, oh and the traffic. I nearly left then.

Then it’s off to watch Emma Stone’s Mia and her classic rags to riches trajectory. The aspiring actor pulls coffees and flunks auditions. Her flat mates (who can only be known as Yellow, Red and Green because their function is to serve as colour contrast to Mia’s Blue),  dance out of the house to meet a producer while Mia sits at home waiting for her next big audition.

Then yet more clichés as Mia and Seb (Gosling) meet again in another chance encounter. There are attempts to create chemistry but this is done through their acting, not their singing and dancing. It so could have been a non-musical screwball comedy.

Gosling’s jazz tragic works well, and the portrayal of his piano playing is great – I couldn’t see that it wasn’t him playing those riffs. His part of the story is significantly less fluffy than Stone’s as he wrestles with compromise and money – to pursue his love of opening a jazz club.

La La Land‘s musical number were pretty insipid to my ears and just emphasised something that had happened or nothing in particular. Most of the singers had quite weak voices with the only real exception being Ryan Gosling’s Seb singing City of Stars with Mia. That song at least had some emotional depth to it.

I think the film could’ve worked better without the bulk of the musical numbers. Stone and Gosling’s acting is far better than the musical interludes.

And the less said about the tap scene the better, other than it failed Tap Rule 1 – don’t do anything that reminds everyone of Shirley Temple unless you’re brilliant and tap dance full-time. I was embarrassed for them.

The fantasy visit to an alternative reality also served no real purpose. Giving them this too-long “what if” musical sequence did not resolve any of the questions it raised – why didn’t Seb follow Mia to Paris? Why couldn’t they make their relationship work? This is not Sliding Doors.

It also failed to explain what happened to the two. How did they get to where they ended up? Yes, you could fill it in from your own imagination, but it feels lazy and unfinished — there were so many opportunities to take this plot somewhere that were missed.

If I think back to those musicals I have really enjoyed, it’s these elements that shine through:

  • Amazing songs that lift the film out of the ordinary – Somewhere over the Rainbow, The Candy Man, Sound of Music
  • Great performances that add an extra element – Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka, or Rebel Wilson in Pitch Perfect – each is a little out of kilter with your expectations for the movie as pitched, and extends your enjoyment.
  • Songs that advance the plot in a meaningful way – they add something that is not necessarily repeated by the characters or take the action along.
  • Often comedy is a big part of the enjoyment.

La La Land disappoints because it only has one of these four elements – great performances by strong actors.

The film is also quite sad and heavy which is not reflected in the music which is mostly “up” and light. Maybe it’s this failure to integrate these elements that makes La La Land such a missed opportunity. It feels like someone has taken the feel of Glee (which worked really because of the wickedness of so many of the characters) crossed with High School Musical to a producer and pitched it as a grown up version; but they missed the magic.

La La Land has great leads and a good plot outline and looks fabulous with its palette of bright primary colour but it failed to engage me. It doesn’t deserve the hype it’s been getting. ‘Ya gotta wonder sometimes – is the fawning simply because these two wonderful actors can actually sing and dance?

What were the Hollywood Foreign Press thinking? I know I’m in a minority, plainly, but surely there are others out there who have experienced this pain?


46 responses to “Why I hate La La Land (and just about every other musical)

  1. No, you’re just outside the Hollywood bubble of peddlers and sycophants.

    To be fair, LA LA LAND wasn’t an awful movie. It just wasn’t that good.

    And it certainly wasn’t the supposed masterpiece that many critics madly claim in mindless echo of one another.

    In the wake of THE ARTIST (which I liked) and BIRDMAN (which I also liked) Hollywood’s self-obsession is becoming a little too conspicuous for comfort.

    1. If you hate all musicals then by definition your opinion is self disqualifiying. Why would you bother seeing much less contributing a “review” unless being a grumpy old free lance writer is your mission statement… not to mention why “free lance.” You’re hero Ebenezer Scrooge, as well, by chance? Critics, even real ones, can over hype as well as completely miss on occassion, but record setting award noms and wins…a sweep at the Globes for example, and global box office validates the movie’s well deserved accolades and exposes the unqualified and pretenders.

      1. Well the surprise I got was that though I thought I hated all musicals there were a lot of exceptions, so I attempted to judge it against those that I had loved…. and it came up well short. I just think that Hollywood has got itself caught up in a frenzy about this flick, but the reality is that it isn’t anywhere near as good as the best musicals. It would’ve worked far better with the story fleshed out more and far fewer musical numbers.

    2. Well… I didn’t like it – mostly for the reasons outlined here, and for other reasons raised in a comment on Luke’s original review – but my partner DID like it, and she is not part of the “bubble of peddlers and sycophants”. We’ve really got to relearn how to disagree about stuff.

      Nice turn of phrase, though.

  2. Light entertainment but certainly not as important and relevant as the 1972 movie-musical “Cabaret”. I am not into musicals either….but that was a movie that I loved.

  3. La La Land – the musical would have made for a great story. I can’t hep but cringe when either the reality is broken or everyone breaks out in song.

  4. It seemed to me to be an excuse for a musical. The usual boy meets girl, loses girl, will they get back together drill. I expect a musical to have at least one memorable piece – this didn’t. And the dance scenes weren’t engaging. Six out of ten.

    1. It’s funny, and although I’d rate it less stars, there were bits in it plotwise and straight acting-wise that showed it to have a little more than just boy meets girl. There was potentially more in the “who’s gonna sacrifice their career for the other and why?” scenario that just never played out.

  5. I usually LOVE musicals. But I agree that this was a failure as a musical. City of Stars is the only memorable “tune” in the film.

    Furthermore, I believe that to star in a musical you must have an acceptably good singing voice. These two marvellous actors do not! Their tone is breathy and what they produce is not at all “singing”. Such a shame. It would have made a far better “dramedy”, whilst leaving in the jazz music, which was a highlight.

    1. Totally agree. Breathy singing – that’s what I was meaning to say. I thought the singing was tremendously average, even in the non-star parts where you’d expect professional singers to be belting away. Disappointing all round.

  6. That’s unfortunate Shane. It tends to be that you either like or dislike musicals, and they’re so easy to diss, anyone can do it. I read some trendoids in SMH letters to the Editor that were hopping on board the hate wagon. I just felt sorry for them and their controlled and contrived lives complaining about it being contrived, lacking a plot (contrary to your opinion), all manner of things that are so easy to smile wryly at. “Which part of it went over your heads” was my usual response to their complaints.

    The songs were ok, except when they were stellar. City of Stars, which resonated through the film was soulful and delightful, depending on the mood of that scene. The Jazz music was just outstanding, and this wasn’t that arty-farty, inaccessible, nerd-muso only Jazz, this was accessible, ballsy and played by afficionados. Also, such sweet chemistry between Gosling and Stone, non-professional tap dancing etc added to the sense of the movie rather than detracting from it, and it didn’t have a Hollywood ending. Piano piece by Seb at the end just beautiful, heart-rending, sweet.

    Complaining about film musicals (with the exception of most of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work) is so trendy, so derivative, so contrived, so many unhappy people out there.

    “The film is also quite sad and heavy which is not reflected in the music which is mostly “up” and light.” Yes to the first bit, but didn’t you notice the change in tone (both colour and sonic) as the movie progressed. What else? The incredible one-shot takes that display ridiculous cinematic craft, the colour palette and the way it changed through the movie, and as with any good musical, the emotional content (for those who aren’t emotionally bereft yet)

    It’s ok if you don’t like musicals. Me, I can’t stand opera – now that’s contrived with ridiculous if any plot lines, and the pretentiousness, holy mother of pearls!

    I can’t help but feel that those who don’t get it are just missing something in their lives, a little magic, a little bit of heart. Some musicals are just trash, sure, but so many are wonderful and this had so much heart, plus some beautiful musical moments.

    1. I agree with what you say about some musicals, what I discovered in writing this was that I like a lot more of them than I thought I did. My initial reaction is always , urgh a musical precisely because so many are rubbish.

      The problem is that I don’t think la la land is anywhere near the status of a great musical like say Wizard of oz which had one less oscar nomination than la la land does. How does that even compute?

  7. Agree generally with this article. Not quite a terrible movie, but not good either. I suspect it’s great reception has something to do with people really wanting to like it more than actually liking it. It will be interesting to see how current enthusiasts think it stands up to repeat viewing in years to come.

  8. I usually like musicals after i have seen them. But it takes some persuading to get me along to see new ones when they arrive. I went along to see La La Land because I admire the main actors and wanted to see why this movie made such an impact in the industry. I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it but I did wonder what was so special that put it above the other contenders for awards. Perhaps when I eventually see the other contenders offerings it will become clear.

    1. Exactly. Why? And I see today it has 14 oscar nominations- either the rest of the year was a dud, or Hollywood are acting like a bunch of sheep.

  9. Packed with insincerity – because they’re fiction?
    I like some musicals, some not at all _ can’t stand Lloyd Weber for instance.
    My parents were in G&S shows when I was very small, and much later I did one too.
    I’ve also done some others, and played in the band in a Cole Porter work – that is very high quality music.
    A lot of musicians like musicals, so maybe they’re not as snobbish as some critics.

    1. It’s a shame you seem to think I’m snobbish. I love Cole Porter songs. What I tried to get to was to understand what I disliked about la la land and why it seems to be getting such a massively positive reaction, when it’s really lightweight, and as I said the songs don’t add to the story, if anything they subtract. That’s why I teased out the elements of great musicals that I liked…

  10. Boring. Thought of walking out and seeing something else, but stayed. Sigh. Utter waste of two hours. I agree with the review. Opening was weak and contrived, ending was weak and the middle fared no better.

  11. Agree. Based positive reviews, I went to see a matinee of LA LA LAND yesterday. It kind of won me over by the end, but I was mightily irritated by much of it. Lots of finger drumming. Having been a perspiring young actor in LA in the 70s and early 80s, I had the following problems with the flick: In general, the film didn’t capture the gestalt of LA very well. For the most part, we didn’t spend much time looking out over the twinkling city from Griffith Park or Mulholland Drive (oddly, the San Fernando Valley is the backdrop for their first dance. In one shot of them walking inside the studio, you can see the approximate spot up in the hills above Burbank Studios where that dance was shot). Downtown LA, for instance, is represented by the tiniest little glimpse of the magical Central Market and a couple of seconds on Angel’s Flight. The single most authentic item was Sebastian’s bedroom–it felt utterly LA, though the apartment should have been an efficiency. The tony, mostly-white pool party really rankled. Yes, there is a faster, trust-fund babies’ scene there that a few young actor wannabes run in–I recall being dragged to a pretentious Beverly Hills club–but that party would have induced projectile vomiting in most of the young actors I knew. And finally, the jazz. Sebastian complains that most people want to kill off jazz, and then sings and dances his way through a story accompanied mostly by bland movie-musical pop. Gimme a C, a bouncy C . . .

  12. Liking something is a matter of taste and in that regard there is no right or wrong. What does seem misplaced is why someone who “freakin hates musicals,” professing to be a movie critic no less, would 1) write a review about one and 2) pan it? I didn’t care for Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter…just don’t like the genre. However, I yield to no one in my admiration and respect for those films and recognition they so deservedly won. One thing not to like something, but panning a film setting all sorts of records around the industry and globe for wins and nominations is a fools errand.

  13. The movies’ dialogue was a bit lame. The first scene was the best it was like “Fame” But, unless you are into superficial romanticism, you know the usual scenes in Paris, and boy meets girl, boy loses girl, it is all pretty blasé. A parody of film iconic clips. I would not even put it in the category of B grade films more like C- I’m with you, although, I don’t normally dislike musicals, but , this one I got to say, was the pits.

  14. I agree with your review, and I actually LOVE musicals, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. I am usually in agreement with movie critics as well, but I can’t understand why this movie has won so many awards. What did I miss?

    1. The freeway scene: dancers jumping on the roofs of very old cars, and what about the guy on the push bike.

    2. Those stupid shoes Seb wore through the whole movie

    3. The John Legend band + dancers performing pulp, supposedly so great that it goes on tour : who would want to see that?

    4. Mia hates jazz but in no time loves it.

    5. The party and swimming pool scene: embarrassing.

    6. The scene with the camera spinning around. I had to close my eyes to avoid spinning out myself.

    7. The “Casablanca” ending doesn’t work. Who will remember this in 10 years.

  16. Such a waste of time! Yes, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are good actors, but there’s no chemistry between them. I didn’t felt anything in the end, it was like very mechanical, the dance, the music, the performances. I couldn’t relate to any of the characters and any of the songs are memorable for me.

  17. Agonising to watch.
    I went to see it with a movie loving group and only stayed out of courtesy otherwise would have left after 10 minutes.
    Painful, embarrassing and bad!

  18. You’re the first critic I’ve come across who had problems with the resolution, as I did. I felt like I had been reading a book and skipped a chapter. Those who liked it say, “Well, sometimes relationships end sadly.” OK, fine, then why didn’t the movie show why that happened?
    It’s too bad you biased some readers by saying you don’t like musicals, because you made some valid points in your review.

  19. Thank heavens somebody is honest enough to say the emperor has no clothes. How anyone brought up on West Side Story, Cabaret, South Pacific, Fiddler on the Roof–need I continue?–could get excited over the slop in that movie makes my stomach churn. I love Gosling but in Land Beyond the Pines–NOT this. His piano faking was the only thing in the movie that was outstanding.
    It upsets me doubly because out there must be hundreds of people with the talent to compose better music, choreograph better dances and perform both but they won’t get to do it. (I’m not one of them.)
    I don’t know what is behind the hoopla but it smells to me like fish.

  20. Thank God that you are all honest first of all and strong enough to not follow the masses.
    I really can not believe that this movie has won so many awards it really had no substance at all… was boring.
    I have to wonder if the sole reason that the entertainment industry supported this musical so strongly was due to the fact that it portrayed and promoted the film industry even with its title La La Land.

    When I think commercially successive movie/ musical I think that Grease fits this profile but not La La Land. I am actually surprised that this movie did not go straight to video it really was that lame. It disappoints me that excellent films like Coherence and Shawshank Redemption get completely overlooked for this movie.

  21. Even though the story had holes and not everything made sense, it was executed beautifully – which is why I imagine people like it so much.

  22. I was so looking forward to this movie, being a musical tragic. I wanted to love it bust I didn’t, I found it “meh”.
    For me, I felt the film didn’t know what it was or what it was trying to achieve. I loved the campy opening scene but after seeing the movie in its entirety I found myself asking “what purpose did it serve?”
    I could not connect with the characters and was significantly underwhelmed.
    I too am unclear as to why this film has received such critical acclaim, I found it at times a labour to watch.

  23. Nicely filmed and colourful, but sadly boring… what was the point? I think the 2 main actirs are stars who will still be able to put this behind them. Much ado about nothing…..

  24. Top review! I couldn’t even finish the movie… I almost switched off at the traffic jam… where’s “Smash Up On Interstate 5” when you need it? I saw some of it with my 83 year Mum and we were both very damning of it. Nice lighting and costumes. The audition scene where she was rejected was good. But generally… unwatchable. I hate “Cats”, too. Can’t believe it got Best Picture, but Hollywood likes backslapping itself. The horror, the horror…

  25. You sound frustrated, like something about this film struck you to your core and you haven’t been able to work it out. Could it be because it is actually a tragedy? Would you fight to make the relationship work, or are you a man like Seb? Would you follow your Mia to Paris? I think in your identification with Seb you were let down, because he did not step up and be the Hero you needed him to be. I think us blokes need to be shown how to be heroic in this way and that this movie has failed us. Or has it? Maybe the message was: don’t do what Seb did and don’t let yourself down. Yeah, this movie stuck a knife in me too. I agree with much of what you have said, however I have since realised that it was just the wrapping that concealed the blade. A clever film really.

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