It’s very much an ode to old Hollywood musicals. Set in Los Angeles, it’s a romantic comedy about an aspiring actress who falls in love with a piano player who wants to open his own Jazz club.
There are tons of films and TV shows about people in the entertainment industry. This is another that doesn’t add anything new or tell a groundbreaking story. If anything, it’s about pretty, young, white people who in the end are okay, or find an inordinate amount of success that the average person striving in the business, especially a person of color, never will.
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, it’s his follow-up to the Oscar-winning Whiplash (2014), which is about a young, white guy who is pursuing his love of Jazz music, which is a part of this story. In Whiplash, Chazelle had no actors of color in lead or supporting roles. It was all about two white men and their love of this music invented by black people. Here, Chazelle does at least have one actor of color, but, again this movie leans more toward the white guy being the true champion or real spirit of Jazz, which continues to be offensive.
It’s not to say that white people can’t love or appreciate Jazz, but it’s frustrating to see again from Chazelle him not making a black person his protagonist given that his movie co-opts black music, as his previous movie did. Chazelle does have a black person here with speaking lines in more than one scene, but that black person is dismissed as not loving or appreciating the true spirit of this historically black art-form.
Emma Stone (Birdman and The Help) stars as Mia, the aspiring actress in question. Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson and Blue Valentine) co-stars as Sebastian, the aforementioned lover of Jazz. Both have to sing and dance. Neither are particularly great. Both make up for it with their incredible charm, but their technical ability never rise to the level of Miles Teller’s in Whiplash, though that doesn’t seem to be the point but one perhaps wishes it was.
John Legend plays Keith, the token black person. Legend is a famous R&B singer who won the Oscar for Best Original Song two years ago for Selma. One wishes Legend had been cast in Gosling’s role because Legend is a far better musician and extremely better vocalist. If so, Chazelle could have built more of a musical around him. As such, it’s a chore to watch Stone and Gosling get through their musical numbers. Gosling is more impressive on piano than Stone is on singing, but she does belt out effectively a good number at the end called “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).”
The so-called love story isn’t as epic as one might expect. Not to seem sexist, but I see why Mia would fall for Sebastian but I don’t get why Sebastian would fall for Mia. She falls for him because she sees him actually perform well and she thinks he’s good at piano. She falls for his talent, but what does he fall for about her? It’s not as if he witnesses her acting. At no point does he see her doing her talent. It’s the same problem with Indignation. It literally is a lop-sided romance.
Rated PG-13 for some language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 8 mins.