La La Land ★½

Damien Chazelle doesn't love Hollywood. He loves a vague, insular 'Hollywood' as it is understood by first year undergrads who've watched some Howard Hawks and Stanley Donen and think they've seen it all. Garish primaries flood the screen in an ill-fated attempt at capturing Jacques Demy's marvellous aesthetic and the actors prance making grand gestures with their arms, and yet the screen is devoid of life. The story isn't being progressed, nor are we learning anything about the characters. All that's being advanced to the audience is Chazelle's massive ego.

While it doesn't belong to the genre by virtue of its outrageously-overdesigned production, La La Land could just as easily fit into the category of low-budget coming-of-age teen dramadies, à la The Perks of Being a Wallflower and (500) Days of Sodom. Like any number of the rebellious manchildren that inhabit those films, Gosling and Stone (and to a greater extent Chazelle, both in his direction and use of his two stars as mouthpieces for his idiotic views) opine loudly about their archaic tastes with an air of smug, misguided superiority that would be insufferable for anyone around them to listen to if they did it in real life. The most egregious point of discussion is that of classical jazz, which despite featuring prominently in both this and his previous exercise in self-aggrandisement Whiplash, Chazelle seems to be completely clueless about.

Unlike any number of the films it borrows from, there is nothing beyond the surface and the ridiculous half-baked jazz narrative (which is under the impression that anything outside the neo-bop tradition is not 'real jazz', excluding the likes of Chet Baker, Nina Simone and Miles Davis). Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly's deft portrayal of Hollywood circa 1927 is packed with any number of heartfelt jabs at the ridiculous nature of film production and celebrity egos. Demy used musicals to examine real-life, existential issues, all the while alluding to the cultural imperialism of America through this use of cinematic form. What does Chazelle have up his sleeve, save for a ropey narrative about believing in yourself - and a faint lingering odour of racism?

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