I posted this on Facebook but I'll repost here to have more of a dialogue about it. I really love the movie. I think that it's a lot more interesting and rich than it appears on the surface. I don't agree that it's just a simple film with some pizzaz. I would not make comparisons to PDL, but I feel compelled to talk more about the movie so that it doesn't become yet another "cute movie" that becomes forgotten in a few years.
LA LA LAND is an intelligent, witty, slyly subversive movie with serious thematic engagement and cohesiveness, which is, frankly, a rare thing. Most movies, including very good ones, are a series of things happening in a certain direction for an hour and a half, circling around a handful of typical themes. And that can be very entertaining. And often, they capture moments of truth. But LA LA LAND, alongside THE LOVE WITCH and THE LOBSTER, is a movie in which the style, characters, actions, and circumstances emerge from and return to a focused theme. That takes rigorous effort, and it makes me a bit sad when people dismiss the movie as a vapid candy-colored trifle about two white people dancing that isn't worth taking seriously, or as something that's just aping classic movies without having its own identity.
I wouldn't say that everyone should love it, just as I wouldn't say that about any of the esoteric movies that I usually extol. You do have to be charmed by the music and the actors and the concept for it to work. If you don't, then there's not really a way in for you. It's not wrong to not like the music; that's a matter of taste, but the movie's not vapid. Yes, the movie is about self-absorbed idealists, one of whom is a mansplaining white jazz man who verges on insufferable, but that doesn't mean that the movie is vapid (I think that it's self-aware of all those things and uses that to further the engagement with its theme). And I get that the movie has ingredients that will automatically make people allergic and they're just not going to get past that. But if you do step into place with it, there is richness and substance and even subversiveness there, beyond just being cute. So the point of this post is to encourage you to
A: watch the movie if you haven't or think it looks dumb
B: re-consider or re-watch the movie if you thought it was cute but empty
C: not think that the people who love the movie are just idiots who were charmed by all the pretty colors, even if you hated it, which is a fine opinion to have.
I will say that I don't think the movie is about the central love story or even really about the two main characters. I think that the movie's operating on a thematic/representative level, using the love story (and movie stars) as a seductive portal into a story that's more concerned with the bittersweet nature of dreams and the idea of Los Angeles (not the real Los Angeles), the weirdest city in the world, the city that Werner Herzog calls the most substantive city in America, a city that hums to its own tune, a tune that creates a certain insanity in certain people, a tune that dreamers sometimes can step in time with, a tune that is often used to exploit people, a tune that guides the nonsensical choices that people make, a tune that people will willingly suffer deeply for. The songs in the movie don't stem from inner feeling bursting out, the way that we would traditionally think of musicals. The songs stem from a desire to connect with the tune of Los Angeles. Even romantic love often stems from a desire to connect with the tune of Los Angeles (we want our romances to feel like the movies), as ill-fated as that impulse may be. The movie celebrates the bittersweet nature of dreams, and the fact that dreams aren't reality, even when those dreams come true.
I also think that it's worth noting that the movie isn't called SEBASTIAN & MIA, but LA LA LAND, a term that suggests disassociation from reality.
I've seen the movie twice (it holds up!) and I think I would have more specific things to say after a third viewing, as far as citing certain examples of what I think is really smart about it.