starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Finn Wittrock, J.K. Simmons
written and directed by Damien Chazelle
by Walter Chaw Damien Chazelle's La La Land is sort of like Down With Love and also sort of like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, derivative in the way that things are derivative when they have no real knowledge of or even maybe affection for the things from which they ostensibly derive. At the least, the picture demonstrates no real knowledge of the Hollywood musical. It's homage in the same way that "Stranger Things" is homage. It's beard oil, suspenders, and craft beer: The Movie. It's homage the way that putting a tutu on a dog pays homage to ballet. When something is this familiar, its set-pieces need to be extraordinary. Howard Hawks understood this. Vincente Minnelli, of course. Stanley Donen? Stop yourself. Yes. When Chazelle does the two or three blow-out sequences meant to dazzle, all they do is seem psychotic. The best thing about his Whiplash is arguably its editing. (It won the Oscar.) Now imagine Brigadoon cut like that. Consider the scene in La La Land that ends in a swimming pool, camera spinning deliriously around in a circle like something drowning or getting death-rolled by an alligator. It's intended to be ebullient; it feels panicky and hallucinogenic. It feels like that scene in Seconds where Rock Hudson joins a bacchanal in a grape-stomping vat. Seconds wasn't a good musical, either.