Speed review: LA LA LAND

Much as I hate to say it, and I know I'm in the minority here, but I just wasn't as enraptured by Damien Chazelle's LA LA LAND as virtually everyone else seems to be. I liked it, but this unabashedly contempo-nostalgic Hollywood musical has far too many shortcomings (both aesthetic and technical), to get overly excited about.

The niggles began almost immediately, with the admittedly ambitious single-tracking-shot-through-freeway-traffic-jam opening number. The idea is fantastic, but the dancers aren't up to muster; the blonde guy in the blue shirt who gets his big close up sliding over his car? Sorry mate. Similarly, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are obviously a great duo, but I just kept thinking "was Channing Tatum unavailable?" (To which the answer may well be "yes.")

The second(?) song - the one where Stone's Mia and her friends are getting ready to go out to a party doesn't fare much better, and everything begins to feel a bit like it's trying too hard, but things pick up thereafter, and the moment the comedy elements really get going, pace and structure perk right up and it never looks back.

Finally, a huge technical concern: focus. It feels like a good 20% of the film isn't sharp, and I'm not just talking about all of the complex tracking shots in the musical numbers. This includes simple, static close-ups, and it drove me to distraction. I've since heard from a friend that this is due to the film being shot in Cinemascope (which on the other hand is for me one of LA LA LAND's big pluses), which is an incredibly difficult format for a focus puller to work with. But if the eyes aren't sharp, why take the risk? Was THE HATEFUL EIGHT using the only old school focus puller in town?

So the colours are nice, and the central performances are fine, but let's not kid ourselves: the bars set by the great Hollywood musicals - both in front and behind the camera - aren't in any danger of being toppled by Chazelle's creation. It's a nice enough way to pass a couple of hours, but there's not enough here for me to believe LA LA LAND is the masterwork everyone's making it out to be.

LA LA LAND is in cinemas now in Australia, New Zealand and the US, and is released January 12 in the UK.