La La Land suffers from what it endeavors to celebrate: Hollywood’s flair for artifice and self-congratulation. This is Damien Chazelle’s follow up to Whiplash, another film that examines a musician’s life. Here, his visual language is muddled and inconsistent. The camera, when it ought to move in for a close-up, remains in the range of medium-to-long shots. This overly enthusiastic depiction of Los Angeles includes, at once, too much and not enough. The charming too-much (familiar landmarks, sunshine, and movie references) is forgivable; the not-enough dampens the effort. The romantic pair at the center of this musical, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, never project the body heat of a couple who’ve ever seen each other naked. Rendering Ryan Gosling sexless is a puzzling achievement, but it’s what the director has done. The Gosling of Winding Refn’s Drive, a mood-altering L.A. feature, does make a brief, affecting appearance. In that lone scene, the actor makes the case for the movie that might have been. And after an uncharacteristically acerbic turn in Birdman, Stone retreats back to being the likable everygirl, a role she’s outgrown. It feels as disingenuous as Taylor Swift’s wide-eyed posturing. Neither of them is ever going to be your best friend, but the Dream Factory they work for keeps distracting you from that cheerless fact.
La La Land
Opens Friday at the Century San Francisco Centre 9.