Rated: PG-13 (for some language)
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and John Legend.
“Here’s to the ones who dream;
Foolish, as they may seem.
Here’s to the hearts that ache;
Here’s to the mess we make.”
It’s incredible to think that this is Damien Chazelle’s follow up to his first movie “Whiplash”. Going from a dark, intense thriller-esque movie about a teacher torturing his students so that they become better musicians to a colorful, jazzy, upbeat movie about the dreamers who travel to LA to do what they’ve been vying for their entire lives. After this he’s planning a biopic on Neil Armstrong….what’s next? A Friday the 13th reboot?….we don’t need another on of thoses….ANYWAYS OFF TOPIC. With tradional musicals being out of the mainstream, will La La Land ignite the musical revolution and be the flame to spark more upbeat musicals like there were in the 60’s and 70’s? Or will this film tank the musical genre for another decade before somebody tries it again.
The city of Los Angeles belongs to the dreamers. Sebastian, a jazz pianist who just wants to resurrect classic jazz to the masses, meets Mia, a would-be actress who’s having a tough time getting a part, through a chance encounter one night. As their relationship begins to bloom and become more involved in each others lives, they begin to realize that sacrifices need to be made in order for each other’s dreams to be realized.
I found that this films’ story is more than just your average love story, it’s more than that. It felt like a true reflection on a relationship: the plans you make, the dreams you have together, the ideas of what it means to be in a relationship and what it is to be successful and fulfilled. The movie doesn’t sugar coat the relationship, but offers a reality that sometimes stings a little bit. With that though, it also sheds a light on Hollywood itself: Casting directors not fulling paying attention to an audition, cinemas or theatres, with historical value, being shut down. La La Land paints Los Angeles with beautiful vibrant colors but doesn’t diminish the fact that it is a tough life for a struggling artist. The main thing I got from this film is that you should never forget to dream…no matter how hard it can be. (Corny I know but once you watch it, you’ll understand the sense.) The film is built with passion from its creators and beautifully recreates filmmaking that I haven’t had the chance to experience myself in theatres (seeing as I was far from being born in the 60’s).
In my Arrival review, I said that Emma Stone would be receiving a lot of Oscar Buzz and would probably win the award this year….well I wasn’t lying. Her charm, charisma, patience, beautiful singing voice and class shine on the screen like this genre was made for her. I’d like to say she could be as iconic in this as Audrey Hepburn was in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; it’s as if she channeled the famous actress while doing this film. Her performance feels classic and (as much as I love Amy Adams in Arrival) I see her winning with no problem. Ryan Gosling’s performance is great as Sebastian: he is charming as well, but offers a very Marlon Brando type character. (yes I realize I’m using a lot of archetypes but we are dealing with a film that is both modern and yet is a tribute to classic musicals/Hollywood films). He holds himself at a certain level of jazz players (Charlie Parker, Miles Davis & John Coltrane for example) and finds himself playing jingles for patrons at a bar for money. Throughout the film, his pride is very upfront and prominent but as the film plays, his vulnerability and true nature begins to show and that is what can make or break a performance. Luckily, Ryan Gosling is a really great actor so it is done really well. Now, this is what is more important that anything for this film to work: the chemistry between the actors need to feel real, because if not, the film wouldn’t be a success. Luckily, it is more than perfect because the chemistry between Gosling and Stone is apparent because they sell this love story like it’s Lemonade on the side of the road on a hot day.
Damien Chazelle really knows how to edit around music. With a wide array of close up shots of instruments, timed execution between edits from big poppy numbers, to long shots of dance sequences: Chazelle is at peak performance for this genre. Like a conductor, he paints a picture with imagery and musical seamlessly and never let’s up. Decisions for story and execution of events are key with a film like this because you don’t want to pander. The reason I say that is, we live in a modern age where we don’t really have many musicals that come to theatres anymore. We enjoy our classics but I’m sure anyone can look at some of them and think they are hokey or are flabbergasted by random singing at some moments. What happens in La La Land isn’t forced, it feels alive and optimistic. I know sitting in the theatre and seeing the one shot highway scene, I couldn’t help but smile because the film looked and felt so classical but wasn’t afraid to make a joke about how the world has changed since the 60’s. The ending to this film nearly made me climb out of my chair and start clapping… I mean it, I had to hold myself back and try not to embarrass my girlfriend and one of my buddies because I swear it was too perfect. Chazelle, if you keep making movies…I promise you that I’ll be there.
I have been listening to this soundtrack since leaving the theatres. I listen to it while I work out. I play it at work (might frustrate my co-workers but that’s ok). The film bleeds jazz and pumps out theses epic numbers that I seriously can’t wait to keep listening to. I know that everyone knows about City of Stars (which looks like it may be getting the Oscar for Best Original Song). It’s a good song don’t get me wrong…it’s perfect in the movie and makes sense for why it would go for Oscar contention…but to me there are two other songs that knock that one out of the park. Audition (Fools Who Dream) is the solo song from Emma Stone’s character Mia. The song describes the reason why she got into acting and who inspired her and the reason why she never gave up on her dream. Hell, I put some of the lyrics as the quote in this review. It’s a beautiful sung song with a lot of meaning…but it isn’t even my favorite song. That belongs to one of the catchiest songs on the sountrack and that’s called: Someone in the Crowd. The song is sung by Mia’s roommates as they try to convince her to come to a party. Basically they are trying to imply is that she may meet the person who could either: give her a job or opportunity for success. Maybe meet someone who is rich that she could fall in love with and make it big. Basically saying: You are not going to be able to find success if you just stay in your room all night. The song then transforms twice in the song: it starts bubbly and then builds to a giant tentpole song (with a big band playing in the background) then slows down as Mia begins to explain that she doesn’t feel she needs someone to take her where she wants to go….and when she is finished it builds right back up for the climax of the song. I have been listening to this song on repeat. The soundtrack is marvelous and I dare you not to tap your feet once you listen to theses songs or feel something…because you know what: it’s damn catchy.
La La Land will probably win the Oscar for Best Picture and it’s very deserving of it. A beautiful movie about love and dreamers is something the world needs. This film and Arrival are currently in my top 2 movies of the year and are beating the crap out of each other for dominance. Maybe another listen to the soundtrack will give me an indication of what number 1 will be but I congratulate the cast and crew on such a beautiful film that I know I will be enjoying for the rest of my life. I hope more films come out like this because I know that I was smiling from ear to ear leaving the theatre after one showing of this.
Verdict: 10 out of 10
La La Land is currently in theatres.