La La Land (Review)

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By Andrew Clarke
 
La La Land is written and directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), and stars Ryan Gosling as a struggling jazz pianist and Emma Stone as an aspiring actress, both living in Los Angeles and striving to finally make the dreams they are passionate about come true, in spite of the obstacles that life throws in their way.
 
In the unlikely event you happened to not realize that this film is a musical, La La Land opens with an opening ensemble number in the freeway standstill traffic of Los Angeles. Then we meet our stars, Mia (Stone) and Sebastian (Gosling)… who pass by each other on this road, unbeknownst of what’s to become of the two of them. These two meet again as Mia stumbles in to a restaurant to hear Sebastian play an astounding piece on the piano (though not the Christmas standards he was told to play)… and yet again in one of the film’s most hilarious scenes as Sebastian jams with a mediocre 80s pop cover band. And the rest, as they say, is history.
 
This is the third collaboration between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, following Gangster Squad in 2013 and a steamy romance in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love. They’re a match made in Heaven, with quite strong chemistry in their previous films that is even more convincing here. Mia and Sebastian are both so passionate about their crafts that it is easy to root for their successes, and for them to be together.
 
Think of the things you’re most passionate about. On the screen, we see Gosling’s Sebastian fight for love of jazz music, and Stone’s Mia talk about what acting means to her. It’s heartbreaking watching Mia as a barista struggle to get the dream job she’s been longing for, as many of us can relate, and as we see Sebastian losing sight of his passion to open his own jazz bar in favor of a steady, well-paying position. La La Land shows that sometimes you have to make the impossible choice, and that to get one thing you may have to lose another.
 
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Both of these actors are among the frontrunners for Academy Awards in their leading roles. La La Land is truly an homage to classic Hollywood musicals in the best of ways, with Damien Chazelle’s film taking notes from many of those films, and our actors Ryan Gosling channeling the best of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and Emma Stone not unlike Ginger Rogers, but perhaps even better. They’re good, but not perfect, singers, which makes the film all the more human and relatable. In the little imperfections Chazelle has crafted perfection.
 
What makes La La Land shine truly above even the best of the classic Hollywood live-action musical films is the work and dedication that writer-director Damien Chazelle puts into this passion project of his. Chazelle took the world by storm with his 2014 full length debut, Whiplash, quite an exceptional film in its own right. (Well-deserved Academy Award winner for Whiplash, JK Simmons, appears in this film in a much briefer role.) La La Land is a different kind of love letter to jazz music and to working hard to see a dream through, but is no less remarkable.
 
Case in point: La La Land has been nominated for 14 Academy Awards, tying the record set by All About Eve in 1950 and later matched by Titanic. Expect its name to be announced quite often. It’s a love letter to Hollywood that would appeal to the Academy’s voters even if it weren’t such a brilliant film.
 
This film is absolutely gorgeous from start to finish, accompanied by cinematographer Linus Sandgren (American Hustle). I knew this would be the case from the moment the first teaser was released. But wow, is La La Land ever beautiful. The tap dance on a street overlooking the city at nighttime, or the waltz as the two float into the stars in the Griffith Observatory, or simply put, the end of the film… there are so many scenes and shots in this film that left me in awe. Recognition is also due to Mandy Moore (not that one), who beautifully choreographed the film. Were it up to me, Chazelle and Sandgren would without question be leaving the Dolby Theatre in late February with Oscar statuettes in hand.
 
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Also beautiful is the music from Justin Hurwitz, even in those moments when vocals are absent. It’s worthy of Best Original Score purely for the music that accompanies the conclusion of La La Land, which even without the visuals or the development from the rest of the film is an astonishingly gorgeous piece. But fortunately, that’s not all we have, and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone also deliver incredible vocals on Hurwitz’s music in City of Stars and Audition (The Fools Who Dream), respectively.
 
And the script and the visuals for the epilogue channel the best from Gene Kelly’s An American In Paris along with other classic films, making for a final sequence that is a pure emotional peak and spectacle for this film, and for 2016 in film. It’s here that we see where our characters Mia and Sebastian have come, and what might have been.
 
La La Land will win many major awards at the Oscars among its 14 nominations, and that list very well might include the Best Picture of the Year.
 
Here’s to the fools who dream.
 

I give La La Land a 10.


    2 Comments

  1. Katie PeckhamFebruary 5th, 2017 at 8:47 am

    Thanks for reviewing this – I can’t wait to see it!

  2. NatashaFebruary 5th, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    This one goes down as one of my favourite movies of all time. It says so much about a score when you can listen and see the film in your head. Audition (Fools Who Dream) is so perfectly written, I find myself replaying it over and over again. I’m not always excited about the Academy Awards but I’m excited to watch La La Land win so many awards!

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