Hollywood certainly loves few things more than it loves Hollywood. Every year we get at least one or two love letters to the city and industry that share a name, and lately they've come in the form of fondly remembering the rich song & dance traditions that we don't really get to take part in anymore (see last year's Hail Caesar for another — more accomplished — example). Right out of the gate, La La Land makes its mission statement clear with a stylized song and dance number that takes place among gridlocked cars on an overpass soaring high above one of Los Angeles' grayest freeways, the tight cluster of Downtown skyscrapers shrouded in smog as a backdrop. If you don't have a smile painted on your face by the end of this opening number, you might as well not even bother with the rest of the movie.
Like another recent release, La La Land is a pleasure to sit through. Hell, I personally wept through the entire last twenty minutes...which, as they stand, are an incredibly inspired and emotionally rich bit of filmmaking. As Bob Chipman puts it, this final sequences is absolutely worth the price of admission alone. And frankly, so is everything else. La La Land is an impeccably-directed, fantastically-acted love story set against the film and music industries. We follow Sebastian and Mia as they navigate their respective aisles in the Church of Showbiz and try to fall in love with each other in the process. Not only is the love story your standard-issue romcom stuff, but this is the part of the film that suffers the most, particularly in the late second and early third acts. The script finds itself dealing with surprisingly basic problems like character motivation, and more than just a little bit of tone-deaf racial subtext (I probably don't even need to write about it explicitly; it's been discussed to death and rightly so), because this movie is the filmmaking equivalent of a piece of cake.
Musically, the film works like gangbusters; composer Justin Hurwitz, working with songwriting duo Pasek and Paul, does a great job with the film's contemporary showtunes...right up until the movie seems to forget it's a musical just about halfway into its runtime. In fact, the film's decision to break away from the idealized Rodgers & Hammerstein beer goggle effect and settle into relationship melodrama robs La La Land of a lot of its steam, and results in a confused tone and diluted message. Still, Stone and Gosling are an absolute delight to watch on screen, and it's absolutely no surprise that they're just cleaning up in terms of this year's awards season. When it comes down to it, La La Land works on just about every emotional note it tries to hit. None of the problems I'm describing became apparent to me during the film's actual runtime, which makes it a success in more ways than it isn't.
Post-film, though? You'll be hard-pressed to come up with anything meaningful to chew on, and might even realize that you were readily ignoring some pretty serious script problems that are all but impossible to unsee once you've noticed them. That being said, is this a movie I want to own on Blu-Ray? Of course it is. Will I invite people over to socially watch it in the future? Absolutely. It works on certain levels, and when it's working, it's working in ways that few films do. As mentioned earlier, though, it's cinematic cake. A rich, delicious, exquisitely baked cake with a craftsmanship on display that you rarely get to see and are absolutely delighted when you do...but it's a cake nonetheless. You can only eat so much of it, and it definitely doesn't count as an entire meal.