REVIEW | “La La Land,” a flimsy, eye-candy treat

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. (Pioneer Films photo)

“LA La Land” takes us to an enchantingly retro Los Angeles, to the City of Stars, where skies are perpetually lavender and pink, and freeway motorists break into song and dance during traffic jams. It musically tells a modern-day tale of romance between two dreamers: Mia (Emma Stone), a barista and aspiring movie star, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a frustrated jazz musician.

Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” resurrects the musicals of the Hollywood Golden Age, and perhaps its timing is perfect. It arrived as some form of salvation to moviegoers burdened by heavy drama, neorealist indie films and Trump. A musical romantic comedy-drama, “La La Land” carries the power of escapist entertainment.

Gorgeously shot in CinemaScope-widescreen, with both playful and competent cinematography, “La La Land” provides a deep, whimsical sense of place. It is a pretty postcard-picture of palm trees against a pink-and-indigo twilight, with catchy music wafting through the air, setting the perfect stage for a love story between two of Hollywood’s heartthrobs.

“La La Land,” though, feels synthetic. Beyond the tinkering of piano, the pop, the jazz, the countless stars used as a dance floor, and the explosion of vibrant colors, there is a shortage of emotions. In fact, Stone and Gosling barely connect to you. Their characters are one-dimensional. Sure, they have strong onscreen presence, what with Stone’s striking auburn hair and huge, sparkling eyes and Gosling’s crooked smile—yet they do not resonate.

It’s hard to fall in love with Seb and Mia. Their love story told through the changing seasons of time, we witness how they meet, fall in love while chasing their dreams, and we find out whether they live happily ever after. But the conflict is weak, not enough to tear you apart and patch you up. Even their struggles as artists are barely felt—only understood. Stone’s auditions are used for comedic purposes, and Gosling’s frustrations are not painful.

The song-and-dance numbers are just eye-catching but disengaging. They feel threaded into the narrative just so you can call the movie a musical. It’s also uncomfortable to watch singing extras look like they’re lip-syncing. Stone and Gosling, two extremely talented actors, are capable singers and dancers, but their efforts are obvious. This also makes the dancing silhouette sequence insulting; as if we are not aware that they are body doubles.

“La La Land” is truly an eye candy and dreamlike, with a few numbers that stick to the mind, like Gosling’s “City of Stars” and Stone’s heartfelt and poignant “The Fools Who Dream.” But overall, it’s flimsy and superficial. Like the director’s previous “Whiplash,” it is overrated, only giving the illusion of something great.

CNC rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars