The New York Times arts critics and editors, normally a polite bunch, are sharply divided over the quality and value of La-La Land, the musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
Taking their gloves off, these Times staffers let us know how they really feel about the musical. Here are some excerpts from their internecine fighting:
“La La Land” is a visual poem and a timely escape from all the tension and traffic and division in our lives. You don’t have to think much; you just watch it. The stars are lovely. The songs are catchy. And the camera lifts you right out of your seat to take you along for the ride. Oh, and that ending — it’s surprisingly perfect.
— Mike Abrams, Culture copy desk chief
But It Doesn’t Understand Musicals
I grew up swinging around lampposts and stomping in puddles à la Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain.” I forgave Fred Astaire his talky rendition of songs like “Cheek to Cheek” because he was the epitome of effortless grace. Ryan Gosling is no Fred Astaire. For die-hard musical fans like me, “La La Land” disappoints. Yes, better a new Hollywood musical than no new Hollywood musical. But the high hopes raised by the inventive opening number are dashed by the weak delivery of its stars. Let’s face it, they can’t really sing or dance. And the novelty of seeing celebrities try to pull it off wears thin pretty fast. Couldn’t Emma Stone muster the vocal strength she showed onstage as Sally Bowles in the Roundabout’s “Cabaret”? Couldn’t the producers have cast a pair with real theater chops, like Sutton Foster and Colin Donnell, or Laura Benanti and Gavin Creel? Too bad Broadway stars aren’t big box office.
— Robin Pogrebin, arts reporter
It Gets So Much Wrong
‘“La La Land” is too insubstantial a dish of candy to hate. But man, does it annoy me, especially the way it elevates young-fogey, I-only-listen-to-vinyl connoisseurship into an artistic principle. (“Sideways,” whatever damage it did to the merlot business, had a sense of humor and perspective about Paul Giamatti’s oenophile fussiness.) This attitude is even reflected in the aesthetics of the movie, which — if you truly get it, if you truly deserve it — you must appreciate not in itself but in relation to the classic movie musicals it reveres and references. The scene that best captures all that irritates me about “La La Land” comes when Mia goes to see Sebastian, who has scored a gig in a pop-jazz band fronted by his old frenemy, played by John Legend. Seb plays a blistering synthesizer riff, and Mia recoils and flees in moral horror at his selling-out, as if he’d just carved up a baby onstage. If playing an awesome synth solo is wrong, “La La Land,” I don’t want to be right.
— James Poniewozik, television critic
Just Give In Already
I’ve seen it twice, and my toes won’t stop tapping. The score is vibrant, the songs hummable, the visuals eye-popping, the leads irresistible and the beginning (and ending) unforgettable. “La La Land” whisks us away into a dream while also letting us think about what we value in life. It’s a celebration of the creative process and the work that goes into becoming an artist. But it’s a dazzler in how it portrays that struggle. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s dance moves are fancy enough to admire what they put into them, yet down-to-earth enough for us to relate. And the expert execution on various technical levels makes it reasonable that it would receive Oscar nominations across the board. It earned them scene by scene.
— Mekado Murphy, digital movies editor