December 14, 2016

La La Land‘ is a glorious and masterful piece of cinematic art. Damien Chazelle, who directed last year’s bold ‘Whiplash’, gives us another The main characters are vibrant and well fleshed out, the cinematography and lighting are among the very best that audiences have seen making each shot dynamically picturesque, and (of course) Justin Hurwitz’s original songs are all very fun and deeply drive both the scene’s message and emotion home. This type of delightful and original entertainment is what critics and audiences have been craving, and the perfect emotional feel good movie for both this holiday season and all year round.

Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress living in LA (those letters, of course, make up 75% of the title) who is currently stuck being a barista and being constantly rejected at auditions. She meets the passionate jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who is also pursuing his dream of owning a jazz club (which, for some reason, also must serve chicken). Through persistance, compromise, and several musical numbers their relationship and dreams begin to blossom. As Sebastian enthusiastically proclaims “it’s conflict and compromise and it’s very very exciting!”. The plot and characters are relatable without feeling cliche or over done, while taking us on a journey that is reminiscent of some of the best of classic Hollywood.

The cast is very limited in this movie. I doubt many people will see this movie who know more than four of the actors. But no performance is bad by any means. Emma Stone’s character and the emotions she portrays mirrors those that we all face as we strive to reach our goals. We understand the challenges that she faces and how she feels. Ryan Gosling’s performance shares similar traits but as Sebastian becomes successful as a piano player, while not being able to actually open the jazz club that he wants. Acting as a pianist a pianist, Gosling actually learned to play the piano through months of rigorous practice and rehearsal so that every time we see his him play, it is actually him play rather complex music for long periods of time. The two leads play off of each other beautifully and have more chemistry than we have seen on screen in a long while.

La La Land’s technical achievements cannot be ignored. The movie’s camera work, lighting, use of color, editing, and more are all precise and calculated. It is apparent that every aspect of this movie went above and beyond and that the cast and crew never took the easy way.

This is also among the best directed movies that I’ve seen. Damien Chazelle controls every scene so that what is on screen is exactly what is needed. There are several one shots throughout that make those scenes even more difficult to achieve. These long shots make this musical seem more like the classics (whether from film or on the stage). The camera captures everything and the whole scene must rely solely on the actors and director, since the editor can’t remove a bad part of the take. Naturally, editing can make a scene improved by cutting to something more interesting when necessary. But Chazelle doesn’t allow the camera to waver and makes what is on screen tell the whole story. Therefore the cuts are more poignant and impactful.

La La Land’s music is what I will remember and enjoy the most. Justin Hurwitz composed the movie’s original score and its 6 brilliant songs. The songs are fun, memorable, toe-tapping, emotional, and energetic while propelling the narrative forward. The songs are incorporated into the story in a way that feels far more natural than some other modern musicals. We also hear these tunes throughout in the background score so that we as an audience are reminded of that scene or tone when needed. The themes frequently change their style, instrumentation, and feeling while retaining the essential melody. Part way into the movie, the non-original songs that are heard, begin to feel unnatural for both us and the characters. Beyond all of that, the actors perform the singing and dancing with ease while representing their individual characters style. I have not heard music so lively, original, and fresh since ‘The Artist’ (one of my very favorites of this decade). Hopefully, La La Land will be this year’s big musical movie, rather than Sing Street, Moana, or Sing.

All of these techniques combine to support the story. This story is essentially one that represents all of our aspirations and the trials, turns, and triumphs that accompany that journey. We see the temptation to take the easy way, the opportunities, the struggle, the heartbreak, the help that we can receive from others, and the passion felt for our dreams. Mia and Sebastian feel very real while we feel that we have accompanied them on their journeys.

La La Land is the best movie of the year (though not actually my very favorite). The best word to represent this movie is skillful. Every aspect of the movie shows quality and expertise working together to make something beautiful. Overall, this is a tribute to musicals, to following your heart, to classic Hollywood, to joyful relationships, and — most of all — “here’s to the fools that dream”.

Damien Chazelle’s musical romantic drama LA LA LAND from Lionsgate stars Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, & J.K. Simmons and is out in theaters December 16th, 2016.

PG-13 – 2 hrs. 8 min.


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