La La Land Review

“La La Land” is the newest film by writer/director Damien Chazelle, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.  “La La Land” tells two entwining stories of Sebastian, a failing Jazz musician and Mia, a down on her luck actress.  The two have a fateful encounter, fall in love all the while pursuing their artistic dreams.  The setting is present day Los Angeles, but the sights and sounds feel like a 1950’s musical in the true vein of “Singing in the Rain,” “Hello Dolly” or “West Side Story.”  There’s a bit of Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers sprinkled into the characters of Sebastian and Mia, with touching nods to “Casablanca,” and James Dean’s “Rebel Without a Cause,” both dealing with the happiness and bitterness of romance.  “La La Land” is Chazelle’s second major film after 2013’s “Whiplash,” which hit theaters like the boom of an angry drum.  And “La La Land” sweeps us off our feet and transports us to a magical world of song and dance, love and sheer heartbreak.

Next to “Rogue One,” “La La Land” was my most anticipated film of the year.  I heard about when it made the circuit rounds at the early festivals this year and I heard nothing but amazing things.  Throughout this year, people have been praising “La La Land” for it’s incredible musical performances, the acting, story and sheer classic Hollywood musical film style.  Critics have even gone as far to say that it not only is the best movie of 2016, but that it will be a shoe in for best picture and will win.  So needless to say my expectations were insanely high and I was nervous because I didn’t want to be let down by this film.  Well, now that I have seen it I will say this:  This is the best movie this year and not only did it meet my expectations but it exceeded them tenfold.  “La La Land” is a pure musical in every aspect and will sweep you off your feet.  There’s romance, dancing, songs and amazing artistic choreography.  “Whiplash” was my favorite movie back in 2013 and “La La Land” is my favorite movie of 2016.  Damien Chazelle has made a near perfect film which I consider to be a masterpiece in every form of filmmaking.

There’s too many great things to say about “La La Land” but I will start will the basic things.  The music was fantastic.  Every song had kinetic energy, even the somber melancholic tones of the piano sucks you in to the story completely.  The characters of Mia and Sebastian were so real and tangible and even though the film plays out somewhat like a fantasy, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling brought the humanity to these characters.  The dancing was spectacular.  I truly felt like I was watching a modern Fred Astair picture.  Both Gosling and Stone sang, and they did such an amazing job.  The film, like “Whiplash” centers a lot on Jazz music and there were some nice little references to Charlie Parker which took me once again back to “Whiplash.”  The romance was real, the stakes were real and the emotion was touching and at times heart shattering.  But the two big things that really stand out in this movie are the cinematography and the color scheme.  The film used a lot of one-shot takes, where the camera follows people around without ever cutting.  It’s a very hard trick to pull off but when done right it looks beautiful.  “Birdman” pulled it off wonderfully and so does Chazelle’s “La La Land.”  Linus Sandgren shot this movie with sheer perfection, which will earn him a best cinematography Oscar this year.  And the production design by David Wasco is gorgeous.  The colors emulated an old Technicolor pallete, with deep reds, blues, purples and yellows.  Everything in this movie popped and was truly eye candy for the soul.  Just on a technical level alone, “La La Land” is near perfect.

The only issue, and it’s not really an issue, but as a critic I must critique something and this is definitely a nitpick.  At the end of the second act, I felt like the film slowed down a bit.  It seemed to lose some momentum, but here’s the thing:  It picks up again pretty quickly.  That’s it!  That’s the only complaint that I have with the movie and it was a real stretch to find something to not like or critique that’s how good this film is.  I think this is one of the best films of the last decade and I cannot recommend enough that people go out and support this film.  There’s something in here for everybody: romance, singing, dancing, jazz music, artistic vision, old movies and heartbreak.  I know a lot of young people today can’t watch musicals or don’t like them and it’s a real shame because this is not only a great musical but it’s a great film.  If anyone out there is aspiring to be a movie director, an actor, singer or musician there is a great message in here that is universal.  Never give up on your dreams and never fear to find love and passion in your life.

“La La Land” is by far the standout hit film this year.  The perfect direction by Chazelle, and the wonderful story of Mia and Sebastian will soon go down as a modern classic.  This truly is a tale of its time and the awe inspiring musical score will haunt you.  The amazing modern look at a romantic Los Angeles paints Hollywood to look like a city of stars.  “La La Land” is a spectacular artistic vision of creativity and perfection.  It’s a narrative told completely through song and dance and I applaud Chazelle for that.  It’s so different from “Whiplash” that it’s hard to compare the two.  But from a storyteller’s perspective, I have to say that “La La Land” takes the cake for being incredibly vulnerable to love, relationships and dreams.  “La La Land” is a storyteller’s dream and a musician’s concerto that breathes new life into a dying breed of Hollywood’s lost musical genre.

Grade:  A+

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