As expected, as you knew it would, Damian Chazelle‘s La La Land has won over Venice Film Festival-attending critics. (Along with certain elites who saw it locally.) The 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes won’t last. Metacritic is currently dispensing a 91% tally. Lift me up, lay me down, take me there…ooh, aaahh, yeah.
“Not perfect but daring, dazzling, beautiful and distinctive,” enthuses Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy. “An absolute triumph,” proclaims The PLaylist‘s Jessica Kiang. “A whole-hog recreation of a lavish neo-studio-system musical,” says Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman, “replete with starry nights and street lamps lighting up the innocence of soft-shoe romance, and two people who were meant for each other literally dancing on air.”
Oh, and downplay your 1950s MGM references and think instead of the musicals of Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort) as the primary inspiration.
Variety‘s Kris Tapley, who hates the hype and phoniness of Oscar season, has called it “the easiest bet…a GOOD MOVIE [that] seizes your emotions in its final moments and sends you out of the theater on a cloud.”
And yet there are other impressions, indicated by McCarthy’s “not perfect” quote, that the closing portions aren’t as wowser as the first third or first half plus a McCarthy suggestion that it could be a few minutes shorter. Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn says La La Land “is magically in tune with its reference points even as it falls a few notes short of their greatness.”
But everyone and I mean everyone seems to agree that the opening freeway musical sequence is some kind of instant classic.
Gleiberman calls it “one of the most extraordinary sequences in years: a musical number, set in the middle of a morning drive-time traffic jam along a vast stretch of L.A. freeway, done in one shot in the look-ma-no-hands! tradition of the famous openings of Touch of Evil or The Player. [It] makes the impossible look easy, and it suggests a ‘gotta see’ factor that taps our hunger to return to — and stay inside — an enchanted romantic universe.”
“If you’re going to fall hard for La La Land, it will probably be at first sight,” writes McCarthy. “There’s never been anything quite like the opening sequence: Traffic is at a standstill on the high, curving ramp that connects the 105 freeway to the 110 leading to downtown Los Angeles. Most of the cars are occupied only by single drivers, who are all listening to different music.
“But after a moment, instead of just sitting there simmering, somebody gets out and starts singing and dancing. Soon someone else does the same. Then another, and yet another, until a bad mood has been replaced by a joyous one as the road becomes the scene for a giant musical production number set to an exuberant big-band beat.”
So the La La nub of it, as long presumed, is that people with a love of cinema and some degree of familiarity with old-school musicals (Demy, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Arthur Freed) are going to be on their knees, but what about the mooks and morons? It goes without saying that your doddering Academy types along with your 20 and 30-something sophistos will applaud, but…you know where this is going. La La Land is probably not for your ADD-afflicted knuckle draggers. Right? Or could it prove the exception?
“Films about tragedy, persecution and adversity dot the [award-season] landscape,” Tapley notes. “A handful of titles — Collateral Beauty, Florence Foster Jenkins, Hidden Figures, Lion — will provide the feel-good release Academy voters will be looking for, but they’ll all likely dance to the rhythm of La La Land. This is a contender across the board.”
In short, the uppiest, most skillfully made feel-gooder of them all (to go by descriptions) has a Best Picture nomination all but locked down.
Wait…Collateral Beauty is a feel-good thing? How could that be when Will Smith makes me feel bad or at least irritated most of the time? On top of which I thought it was about grief recovery. Hidden Figures looks like a come-from-behind, we-go-girls formula thing to me, and that is the antithesis of serious feel-good. The possibly cloying and allegedly shameless Lion is, I’m told, a difficult sit for persons of a certain persuasion. Florence Foster Jenkins is a feel-gooder? If you say so.