Damien Chazelle, director
with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
Two creative young people meet on the Los Angeles freeway when stuck in traffic, and later, have other encounters which draw them together and they fall in love. The movie is about the struggle of being a musician and an actress, how hard it is to succeed, how magical it can be to fall in love, but how rare it is to stay together.
The movie tries hard to be a musical, but it keeps starting and stopping, and does not maintain a rhythm that succeeds in telling its story in a convincing way. Of course this is not a realistic picture. How often do you see stalled traffic result in people jumping out of their cars to sing and dance? Or on visiting the planetarium, dance while levitating in the heavens depicted on the ceiling?
You are either charmed by this sort of thing or you are not. But I couldn’t help thinking, unless you are going to hire first rate musicians and choreographers, you are going to be compared to better musicals, and fall flat. There is a singular lack of musical zip.
Add to that the slow pace of everything, including the tempo of the music. Emma Stone’s face does not bear up to extreme close ups. Yet the director cannot get enough of her. I much prefer Ryan Gosling who is charming throughout. And there are many good things about the movie, including its vaulted ambition. How marvelous to want to make a romantic musical centered on two of our most appealing talented young actors. The sets and use of Los Angeles, the attention to jazz and acting as worthwhile pursuits, the use of coffee shops and Warner Brothers sets paying homage to the old greats like Ingrid Bergman, these are wonderful. There are many scenes that click too, for instance when Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) drives his gas guzzling car to Boulder City Nevada to fetch Mia for an important audition. When he blares his horn, and she hears it inside, it is a lovely moment. Even their fight over their individual ambitions and their conflicts does work.
This never happens. Also the choreography is weak, and weakly danced. It is as if the actors knew they couldn’t top Astaire and Rogers or even Gene Kelly and Mickey Mouse, so they didn’t even try.
The more I think of the movie it left a quick sour aftertaste (why does everyone rave about it so?) which slowly mellows into an acceptance of a director whose ambition is laudable. I only wish he had hired better song and dance creators.