“La La Land” Movie Review

I would now like to break out into song whenever I reach a high or low in my pitiful social life. That is what should be taken away from this movie. Writer-director Damien Chazelle’s romantic musical comedy-drama released in select theaters on December 9th, 2016, before expanding in subsequent weeks and turning over its $30 million budget. Having proved his worth with his intense effort in 2014 with Whiplash, Chazelle channels his passion for music and classical film into this latest project. Set against the backdrop of modern-day Hollywood, Emma Stone plays Mia Dolan, a waitress on the Warner Bros. lot who aspires to be a great actress. She runs into Ryan Gosling’s character, Sebastian Wilder, a musician with an intense love for jazz who dreams of opening up a club to keep the genre alive. Their lives and dreams cross wires in the heart of Los Angeles, where dreamers go to either get their spirits crushed or watch their aspirations and hard work blossom into full careers. Now, I have been looking forward to this movie for a few months; I loved Whiplash, I enjoy some musicals, and the cast sounded promising. In only his third outing as a director, Chazelle impresses with easily the best musical film of the 21st century. Throwing back to many classic MGM productions such as Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon, and The Young Girls of Rochefort, it could also potentially serve as a blueprint for future filmmakers who wish to create their musicals. Every song on the soundtrack is original, paying homage to predecessors while coming out in its own unique language. Justin Hurwitz’s beautiful jazz-inspired score matches up perfectly with the brisk lyrics by Pasek and Paul. Whenever a movie can keep me tapping my foot for most of the runtime, it’s a good sign. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are great in the lead roles. As an aspiring (yet unlucky) novelist of sci-fi and fantasy, I related to their struggles of trying to find a place for their dreams in Hollywood. The choreography of their dance scenes must have taken months to rehearse. Gosling, in particular, had to spend a good chunk of his screen time playing long solos on the piano for various audiences. I’ve heard that Stone may be up for an Oscar in this movie, which totally makes sense when you see everything happening onscreen. And that’s just them individually. These two actors have incredible chemistry with one another in every single scene they’re together. Theirs is a very genuine and believable relationship and romance, never feeling as if it were forced or contrived. Throughout the 128 minute-long running time, I felt a certain sensation. There was a knot in my throat; I’m not saying you’ll cry, but the buildup has been so turbulent and you’re rooting for these two protagonists so much in their struggles, the emotion you feel is ultimately pride. I kept hoping that they wouldn’t just hang up their hat and give up on their dreams. That’s ultimately the biggest theme in La La Land. If you have a dream that you feel so passionate about, don’t just give up on it after so many failures; keep taking the next chance that comes your way and try to prove yourself in this task. That may sound very cliche, but the screenplay by Chazelle is so well executed that one can’t help but adore. Modern musician John Legend also cameos as Sebastian’s friend, Keith. His role was interesting because it tempted Sebastian to sell out of his dreams, but also find a way to make steady money. And Damien Chazelle also puts all of his efforts into the directing. The story is so confidently paced and assured of itself that it almost never lets up at any point. The actors are allowed breathing room to showcase their talent and relax in some of the less stressful situations. Another thing that the film has above almost all other musicals in this day and age is the camera work. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography is perhaps the most subtle throwback to old school musicals of the past century. Many of the musical numbers and certain scenes are filmed on long tracking shots, in the same style as Birdman and Children of Men. It makes the transition between normal conversations and song-and-dance routines more seamless. The first film in a while to be filmed on the format CinemaScope, the saturation of the scenes looks really pretty. The color in the wonderful, retro-esque costumes is brought out to shine in very wide anamorphic frames not seen since last year’s The Hateful Eight. If there is a negative to be addressed for the movie, it’s this; there was a certain element in the movie that reminded me so much of formulaic sports dramas. But La La Land, as a whole, is so unique, original, and compelling that everything else overshadows petty gripes. Great music, great acting, perfect looks, and a strong sense of optimism make La La Land the feel-good time you want for Christmas. This is one of the most beautifully filmed movies of 2016, and a strong contender for Best Picture, for sure.

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