I love musicals so why didn’t I love La La Land?
Let me explain why I think musicals are one of the finest art forms. I love the way the story is enhanced and advanced through song and dance. Music and movement bypass the brain and go staright to the heart and so can give you a visceral insight into the feelings of the characters.
You experience the sadness as Desiree sings Send In The Clowns in A Little Night Music. When the Raoul and Christine sing That’s All I Ask of You in The Phantom Of The Opera, you understand their romantic feelings at an emotional level. As the whole company sings One Day More at the end of act one of Les Miserables, you get all the varied feelings of the different characters in a way that would be a babble if it were spoken word and the marchers are so rousing, you could be marching with them.
As for dancing, the joy of being in love has never been communicated better than when Gene Kelly dances Singin’ In The Rain. No sex scene in a film ever conveys how making love feels like Fred and Ginger do when they dance Cheek To Cheek in Top Hat.
Back to La La Land. I was so looking forward to it. The opening sequence when everyone gets out their cars in a Los Angeles traffic jam and dances with joy gave me high hopes. Then… dancing so ordinary from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone that it lacked any emotion. Any couple that survives the first month on Strictly Come Dancing is likely to be better. I could just imagine Craig castigating them for ‘gapping’ and aimless ‘armography’.
In the old days, they chose singers who could act. Now, in the quest for reality, we favour people who are actors first. That's okay. It doesn't matter if musical stars don’t sing like Doris Day or Howard Keel. Elton John, Bob Dylan and more have taught us to appreciate ‘real’ voices. But a weaker singing voice needs character in order to convey feeling. The singing in La La Land is not bad but it never reaches the heights that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up or tears prick your eyes.
Just because a musical is dominated by song and dance, it doesn’t mean the acting is unimportant. Emma Stone is superb but Ryan Gosling, who is an excellent actor, seemed only to have one expression in this film, namely mild bemusement.
Director Damien Chazelle has made a beautiful tribute to the golden age of the Hollywood musical but it is not a great film musical. The love story about people trying to make it in the entertainment industry and the sacrifices they have to make is involving but not, in my view, enough to merit 14 Oscar nominations. I can only think the Academy members are showing their usual incestuous love of films about the film industry.