Review: La La Land (2016)

La La Land

Rating

Director

Damien Chazelle

Screenplay

Damien Chazelle

Length

128 min.

Starring

Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for some language

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Review

There’s a certain appreciation for the old halcyon days of Hollywood. La La Land chooses to embrace that excitement by putting its incredibly modern characters into a musical extravaganza that owes a great deal to its forebears while trying to create relevance and engagement for newer audiences.

Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to Whiplash is a big, bold musical in the style of Hollywood tuners of the Golden Era. These musicals had plenty of dancing; simple, but evocative songs; and a sense of place and style that made them feel otherworldly. La La Land, to a great extent, does all of this, while discussing the fleeting vitality of said productions and the reality of romantic comedies and their ultimate rewards and penalties.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star as two Los Angeles creatives seeking careers that have eluded them. Stone is a barista who dreams of becoming a world renowned actress. Gosling plays a soulful jazz pianist who can’t escape the realities of his most beloved of aging musical genres. As the two cross paths, their lives take new twists, some for the best, others for the worst. They find out just how much in sync they are and how far apart they could become.

For their part, Stone and Gosling are magical together. The palatable chemistry drives their relationship in unexpected ways. Like Gosling and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine (except a significant bit more happy), there’s always an underlying tension that belies their emotional happiness. They have solid voices that blend well together, much like their characters. Several actors play bit parts, but none of them significantly enough to merit attention.

As director, Chazelle has a sense of perspective that keeps his film buoyant even when it struggles with antiquated concepts and a strong, but occasionally unimpressive song score. The opening number is the best example of Chazelle’s talents and weaknesses. As the song “Another Day of Sun” plays, various motorists emerge from their vehicles to engage in a raucous dance routine comprised of three seamlessly blended long takes. It’s a beautifully choreographed segment, which gets the audience right in the mood. The song, however, isn’t nearly as catchy as one would hope for such an opener.

That said, there are two songs that are instantly memorable. “City of Stars” is a wonderful thematic backdrop to the film, recalled at regular intervals both with full vocals and as a musical motif. “Audition” is a compelling turning point in the film, shifting gears from what had been a fairly straight forward romantic comedy into something a touch more surreal, if that’s possible.

For those who love the musicals of the old days because they refused to cut away from a well choreographed routine, La La Land makes up for years of quick-cut sequences where the beauty of the dancing is chopped into bits. You get to see the vast majority of the dancers’ movements here, which is a relief. You can just see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers influences in the “A Lovely Night” sequence, and every bit of those moves is there for the viewing pleasure of the audience. While this might not give younger audiences the same kind of thrill as those who applaud films like Top Hat, it may hopefully help broaden their experiences and provide a stepping stone towards those celebrated works.

Whether you feel that the musical genre is in need of resuscitation or needs to remain a vibrant, but disconnected byproduct of a long gone era, La La Land will go a long way towards bringing those two opinions closer together. While we may never have a period in history as consistently bleak as the 1920s through 1950s, the period in which many of the musicals this film lovingly recalls thrived, there will always be a need for escapism at the cinema.

La La Land has the potential to speak to a large swath of the international public. It has an accessibility that feels only partly antiquated. However, as seemingly upbeat and exuberant as this film is, there are plenty of elements that betray the inerrant happiness that often accompanied the movies to which this film pays homage. This is a movie that is as much a byproduct of its time period as it is of the long gone era that cineastes put so much love and appreciation into.

Oscar Prospects

Guarantees: Picture, Director, Actor (Gosling), Actress (Stone), Original Screenplay, Original Score, Original Song (x2), Film Editing, Sound Mixing
Probables: Cinematography, Production Design
Potentials: Costume Design
Unlikelies: Sound Editing

Review Written


January 1, 2017

1 Comment

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  1. Thank you for saying that some of the song score was unimpressive, I was starting to feel that I wasn’t getting the music portion of it and why it was being praised for it. I’ll be honest, I just saw the movie and while I admired the ambition of the film, the songs left me kinda dry, outside of the Audition song, which I adore. That opening number was great to look at, but wasn’t catchy in the least and, outside of City of Stars, I hardly remember any of the lyrics to any of the other songs. I still admire the film, but it definitely won’t make any best musicals of all time list for me.

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