****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****
Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes and 44 seconds
My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars.
My Recommendation : SEE IT. Take the time and effort and go see it in the theatre as it is a very enjoyable film.
La La Land, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, is the story of Sebastian, a struggling jazz musician and Mia, an aspiring actress, who meet and fall in love in Los Angeles. The film stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone with supporting turns by John Legend and Rosemary DeWitt.
La La Land is one of those movies that critics and layman alike will all undoubtedly describe as "charming and delightful". A big reason why they will describe it as "charming and delightful' is because it really is "charming and delightful". As cynical as I am, and goodness knows I am very cynical when it comes to Hollywood, La La Land with its vibrantly contagious spirit, was able to break through any resistance I had to it and will most likely breakthrough with other, less jaded viewers as well.
A major factor in La La Land's charm and delightfulness are the two leads. Both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are incredibly likable actors and they are at their most agreeable as Sebastian and Mia. For as handsome as Gosling is, and he is impossibly handsome, he is somehow able to play a somewhat abrasive, jazz-purist oddball with a remarkably grounded appeal and subtle charisma. Emma Stone gives an enchantingly strong performance as Mia, the under-employed actress and barista. Stone is able to exude an inner vivacious luminosity that gives her an undeniable magnetism and presence on screen. The fact is, both of these actors are so enjoyable together and have such electric chemistry, that you could watch them banter, flirt and perform with each other for days on end.
The script and the direction are very well done by Damien Chazelle, who proved with his last film, the critically-acclaimed Whiplash, that he is a formidable filmmaking talent. Once again Chazelle has music in general, and jazz in particular, at the center of his story. Chazelle is really gifted at visually portraying music and musicians in a genuine and realist way, which many filmmakers fail to accomplish. Chazelle's camera becomes just another instrument in the band and another partner in the dance, making the entire film not just a musical, but a piece of musical art, a piece of dance art and piece of cinematic art all at once. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren paints the Los Angeles of La La Land with a lush and gorgeous palette, creating a vivid and intoxicating dreamscape.
The dance numbers in La La Land are pretty remarkable in that they are almost all done in one take, which is no small feat with such complicated blocking. The thing to realize as you watch La La Land's musical numbers is that Chazelle doesn't use a static camera, like they did in say the Oscar winning musical Chicago, so not only must the choreography of the dancers and performers be perfect, but the choreography of the camera must be integrated as well.
La La Land is a staggering technical accomplishment when you take the intricacies of the musical numbers and the filmmaking process into account. It is also a truly unique and original piece of work that manages to pay homage to the classic Hollywood musicals of yesteryear yet also reinvents that genre with a new, sort of everyman, millennial day-dreamer musical.
La La Land works on many levels. It is a tribute to Hollywood's distant and not-so distant past (there is a hidden homage to Boogie Nights in it that only the most eagle-eyed will catch) and is also an examination of the life of an artist in a world of commercialism. In addition, the film is a testament to keeping the faith and staying the path in terms of one's artistic purity. Both Sebastian and Mia have to suffer the slings and arrows of the commercial life in order to gather the courage to return to their artistic roots to find fulfillment and happiness which in turn morphs into commercial success, in other words, the Hollywood circle of life. But, as any struggling actor or musician will testify, the battle for artistic purity is never as cut and dried as the artist wishes it were. For example, Sebastian is a jazz purist, but is a demand for jazz purity the reason jazz is dying? Chazelle asks this same type of question of his audience regarding cinema while paying homage to the old Astaire musicals that purists adore, but he presents that tribute in a new, less purist and more populist, package, which is pretty brilliant.
La La Land is a layered film that can be enjoyed on many levels. You can watch and enjoy it as a pure rom-com, or a love story, or a musical, or an homage to Hollywood or a mediation on the artists struggle, or a combination of all of these. It is tough to watch La La Land and not be overcome by its unrelentingly joyous energy. I recommend you spend your hard earned money and sparse free time by going to see La La Land in the theaters, I think you will find it worth the time and effort.
La La Land will no doubt win a boatload of awards at this years Oscars because Hollywood loves nothing more than movies about itself. I know, I know, you are shocked to hear that Hollywood is so rapaciously narcissistic, it is like hearing that Wall Street is greedy or D.C. corrupt, it can be jarring to realize...but I promise you that it really is true. Besides Hollywood rewarding movies that are about Hollywood, it also loves musicals, even the dreadful ones like Chicago, which means a good one like La La Land is going to be sitting pretty come Oscar Sunday. I assume that Gosling, Stone, Chazelle and a cinematographer Linus Sandgren along with a plethora of behind-the-scenes artists will be nominated and most likely win Oscars as well as the film getting Best Picture. While I thoroughly enjoyed the film, my award voting preferences trend toward more existential and substantial material, so I wouldn't necessarily vote the same way as the Academy. That said, I also won't complain when Hollywood rewards La La Land. There is no sense in complaining here in Hollywood, for as Jake Gittes' partner Lawrence Walsh so eloquently taught me in the film Chinatown, "Forget it, Jake. Its Chinatown." So on Oscar night, as Martin Scorsese and Silence, and Terence Malick and Knight of Cups get overlooked, I'll just keep reminding myself..."Forget it, Mick. It's La La Land."