With a record matching 14 Oscar nominations, La La Land rapidly went from "that looks interesting" to "I need to watch that film". Adam Conover would probably have something to say about that metamorphosis but it doesn't overly both me. I'm rarely suckered into watching award-bait movies, but the premise was intriguing and anything pairing Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling automatically enters my to-watch list anyway.
The real question, then, is whether or not it deserves all of those nominations. Is La La Land an instant classic, worthy of remembrance through the ages? Not really, no. It is a bloody good film with some wonderfully nostalgic, clever concepts, brilliant acting and a competent plot. Best Costumes? Sure. Best Original Score? Definitely. Best Cinematography? When you pull off paying homage to this many classics, absolutely. I can see it deservedly winning all three and likely picking up some of the others, but I do hope it isn't a clean sweep. The actors were both brilliant but there's stiff competition and, ultimately, neither role was particularly stretching. The direction was very good but did occasionally slip and the sound syncing, particularly in the opening number, was actively distracting. The editing during both the galaxy dance sequence and the "what could have been" finale are exceptional, but at other times felt a little flat. In short, La La Land is certainly not a bad choice for any of the nominations it has received, but it definitely wouldn't be near the top of my pick list for several of the actual awards.
Regardless of how it performs during award season, La La Land should always be considered as a triumph. It very cleverly pulls from a huge variety of classical techniques and 'golden era' styling, everything from aperture zoom-ins to reminding you that the film was shot in Cinemascope™! I imagine that every second was packed with Easter Eggs that I missed as well, which true cinema fans will likely rejoice over finding for years to come. The songs are genuinely clever and frequently catchy, with good use of character motifs throughout. The opening 'Traffic Jam Breakout' was a rare exception, which largely felt forced and disassociated from the rest of the film. It provided a novel introduction to our lead characters but otherwise felt rather tacked on. This is made all the more a shame because the lead-up, as the camera pans past all manner of cars each playing different genres, was brilliant cinematography that gets completely overshadowed by a relatively banal following sequence. Plus, have I mentioned how bad the voice syncing was here? Yes, I have, but it's worth mentioning it twice – it's that bad.
There were also some odd issues with focus on some of the tight crop zooms, particularly (for some odd reason) with Emma Stone. Now these may well have been an issue with the cinema hardware, as I don't know why they would have made it through post otherwise, but if they aren't then the director may need to get their eyes checked. Unfortunately this partially ruined some of Stone's best sequences, notably her final audition solo, throughout which the only part of the frame in focus was her clavicle.
Performances, especially during the duets, occasionally felt a little forced, almost as if the actors had been directed to tone back their singing. When they're allowed to let rip both have excellent voices, but some of the earlier songs did seem to struggle as they sing-talked through sections. These are only minor quibbles though and, as I said above, both actors give fantastic showings overall. In fact, this review has turned far too negative, which really isn't fair. When a film is receiving this much attention it can almost be more fun to point out the problems, regardless of impact, but overall La La Land is brilliant.
It nicely balances golden-era, Hollywood nostalgia with a competent and modern rom-com, throwing in some exceptional jazz and brilliant musical numbers to boot. The amount going on here is extraordinary and the fact that it balances all these spinning plates so effortlessly is superb. Most films with half as many ideas and gimmicks would feel overcrowded, though at no point during viewing does La La Land feel that way. It is happily one of the cleverest and most original (despite all its clear derivations) movies I've seen in some time, plus it's wonderfully upbeat. On top of all of that, the plot takes an unexpected turn towards the end which is both intelligently executed and emotionally mature, helping it truly stand a good head above most within any of its myriad applicable genres. You may feel it has become a little overhyped, but you definitely won't be disappointed.