THE STORY – Mia is a struggling actress living in Los Angeles who meets a struggling jazz musician named Sebastian. The two romantically fall in love and attempt to persue their dreams amidst a harsh world in this modern day musical.
THE CAST – Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt & J.K. Simmons
THE TEAM – Damien Chazelle (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 128 Minutes
By Matt N.
In only his third feature film, writer/director Damien Chazelle explores romanticism in “La La Land.” He examines why it’s magical and why it is dying in today’s cynical, critical and analytical world. We do not make decisions based off of feeling anymore like we used to. We do not chase our dreams the way we used to. “La La Land” is a love letter to the ones who still dare to dream, as foolish as it may seem. In that respect, “La La Land” is a new musical that perfectly captures an idea that is slowly decaying as the time’s change and allows us to fall in love with it all over again. It may not be perfect, nor an instant masterpiece, but it has all the makings to one day become one.
Taking place in modern day Los Angeles, Mia (Emma Stone) is working at a coffee shop on the Hollywood backlot where she one day hopes to work as an actress. She constantly goes on auditions and struggles to nail a part for herself. She meets another hopeful dreamer in Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who is a talented Jazz pianist that hopes to one day own his own Jazz club so that he can help keep the musical art of jazz, which he loves so much, alive. The two fall in love and pursue their dreams together in a world that is not as hopeful as they are and the two come to realize that sometimes you have to sacrifice the very things you love in order to fully realize your dream.
Chazelle’s vision for “La La Land” knows no boundaries as he crams every idea and thought he’s probably ever had for making a movie into this film. From different film stocks to editing styles, camera movements, lighting techniques and of course, paying homage to the great musicals of the past (Even going so far as to shoot the film in Cinemascope), Chazelle is firing on all cylinders here as a director. His direction is enchanting and dreamlike in how he captures the vibrancy of Los Angeles, despite it not being as extravagant in terms of its setting, costumes, and art direction when compared to other period or fantasy musicals we’ve seen in the past. “La La Land” takes place in the real world, with real people, with real problems. That cold and hard reality threatens to not only rob the characters of their dreams but it threatens to rob the film of its chances of being as visually interesting of a musical as something like “Into The Woods,” or “The Phantom Of The Opera.” Thankfully Chazelle says screw it and he fires back with a colorful whirlwind of showmanship and creativity that makes his work on “Whiplash” look amateurish. While I much rather prefer the singular and tight direction of “Whiplash” over this (Because believe me, there are times where it feels like Chazelle is going overboard for the sake of it, even if it is for good reasons), “La La Land” marks a remarkable step for the still young director that further showcases his talent.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are a modern day on screen couple that we have seen get together three separate times now and their chemistry is undeniable. They play off each other so well and you root for them to fall in love and stay together. As good as Ryan Gosling is in this, singing, dancing and even learning to play piano for the role of the jazz musician Sebastian, this is Emma Stone’s show. She has more of the juicier scenes and it’s her character that gets the big emotional moments that light up the screen. Look no further than her final number (“Audition”) where Chazelle chooses to shoot the scene much in the same way Tom Hooper did with Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables” by keeping the camera focused on her in one take. The effect is exactly the same and the emotion just as strong. It’s hard to see, with all of her charm and empathy to other struggling actors out there, how Emma Stone does not win the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance here.
So while “La La Land” is not perfect (There’s even an oddly edited scene between Gosling and Stone that plays out as a fight in a series of closeups cut back and forth), it’s so stirring in not only its musical numbers but how Chazelle examines romanticism. The question of whether or not it’s possible to hold onto the person you love while also trying to put everything you have of yourself into your passion is an emotionally devastating one to answer, but Chazelle pulls it off beautifully. The amount of effort and self-sacrifice it takes to follow one’s passion is admirable and it’s why we also simultaneously tend to fall in love with those who create the movies we enjoy. Damien Chazelle has poured every ounce of his effort, creative passions, and resources into making “La La Land” as great as it can possibly be and it clearly shows on screen. Though it’s not perfect, that commitment is something to be admired and no doubt will win over the hearts of many.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Emma Stone’s performance. The film’s technical merits. Chazelle sweeps us off our feet and gets us to think about some thought provoking themes.