Spoilers throughout this review.
Emma Stone is infinitely watchable, but her performance and a few of the songs may be the most important part of this otherwise confused and clichéd melange of self-aware nostalgia.
Set in present day Los Angeles, La La Land purports to be a proponent of the ostentatious musicals of old Hollywood and -- through its characters -- seems to lament their passing. And yet its messages are shallow and oddly conservative for a city so tied to progressive ideals. Is La La Land a film about chasing your dreams at all costs, or a warning about that same hunt?
Are the characters failures for achieving a career while losing love? Are they dumb for pursuing the shallow Hollywood lifestyle to begin with? The film --
through its cheap alternate-reality finale -- wants the audience to have it both ways. Cowardice in screenwriting at its best.
Of course, La La Land tries to fend of these attacks about its confused messaging through its own characters who equally lament the passing of jazz music. Emma Stone's character -- playing across from a deeply dull Ryan Gosling -- even explicitly states about her own play "You don't think people will think it's too nostalgic?" The self-defence is palpable. Perhaps the screenwriter is allowing their own hopes and dreams to be paralleled as you watch that very film.
The classic movie references serve no purpose beyond cheap nostalgia, and a "look what I can do" sort of mentality -- this again confuses the film's point. Is it celebrating hollywood and celebrity culture or is it lamenting the lifestyle? It seems to be leaning toward the celebration of the lifestyle and that celebration seems tone deaf in today's world.
Nonetheless, La La Land has some wonderful merits. Firstly, it's fun. It's romantic. It's oddly sweet in clichéd ways. The gigantic set pieces are gorgeous and the costumes divine. It's large opening numbers have a refreshing exuberance, but none of the irony that you'd expect in something so unabashedly pro-celebrity.
A fine film, but someone needs to have a talk to the screenwriter about their point in writing this film. It's a mess, and frankly, a little offensive in its gushing over stars and how hard their lives must be.