| A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.
Director Damien Chazelle believes that Hollywood is as much a boulevard of broken dreams as it is a flavorsome Tinsel Town in which everything proves to be affectionately Technicolor if you look hard enough, and those intertwining beliefs get him far in the winning modern-day musical ‘La La Land’. This film is a surprising achievement that celebrates music, romance and ambition. If you dislike or even hate musicals, this movie might change your mind.
Chazelle described the movie as; “the struggle of being an artist and reconciling your dreams with the need to be human”. He stated that he wanted something “more grounded in reality”. It is that central tension that drives the plot in La La Land, and does so in new and surprising ways with both Mia and Sebastian struggling to plug in the expectations of others into their artistic mission. Both are motivated to compromise, both are willing to commit, and we as the audience cherish the idea they’ll find their way in the end.
The direction is phenomenally executed. Chazelle uses lengthy scenes that transition into dreamlike sequences leaving us in awe. The cinematography also changes up from time to time and keeps each scene fresh and exciting. They deviated from shooting it digitally and shot the entire production on 35mm film stock and it definitely shines on the screen. Like Whiplash, the editing is superb, timing well with the score, making it very appealing to the eye. The set designs within the film were eye-popping and beautiful to look at.
The imagery of the film stops at nothing to convey the idea of love and the concept of a soul mate, while the business aspects of Hollywood coupled with the necessity of survival keeps the two characters at odds. The film represents a city, a city that often times is at odds with itself; a city that identifies talent based on familiarity rather than the unique and often overlooked aspects that create it. Ultimately “La La Land” is a story about conforming and not conforming and the gains that can be had in between. LA is marketed as the land of dreams, yet is often overlooked and stacked on a pile of dreams that will never come to fruition.
Then we have Justin Hurwitz’s music which he clearly put a lot of heart and dedication into. The songs are very memorable, in fact, I was humming one of the songs on the way out of the theater. It’s not just all singing either, we also get some great instrumental music as well as Jazz that help add-on to this movie’s brilliance.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone had worked together before on “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “Gangster Squad”. You can sense that these two actors feel very comfortable in each other’s company. The level of trust between them is evident. It must be like returning to a familiar place. One sequence stands out where they dance at the Griffith Park and they’re so in sync, you start to wonder how many takes did it take for them to get that down pat. What’s even more impressive is their abilities to play instruments and sing, even if you don’t like musical, the minute you watch “La La Land,” you’ll stand up and cheer because the things that Gosling and Stone do will blow your mind. The two actors are, safe to say, equally deserving of awards.
The story was simplistic yet admirably written. Unlike many romantic films that will force in some contrived conflict between the two leads in order to push the film into the third act, every plot point in La La Land feels natural and believable. There are a couple of encounters and events towards the beginning of the film that feel a little too coincidental. But as long as you can suspend your disbelief a little, they won’t be anything that will ruin the movie. If I had to choose I would say that the plot is the weakest element of this film, if not only because every other aspect was done so perfectly. Having said that, I have to put these relatively minor criticisms into perspective: This is simply a very entertaining and affecting movie.
Chazelle, like in Whiplash, has crafted up that rare film beast, a unique tapestry of brilliance that practically bounces along frame to frame and is matched majestically by its two leads, who in turn give us a duo of characters we are unlikely to forget anytime soon. From a technical standpoint I think this is definitely the Best Picture front-runner. It doesn’t have that heavy-handed emotionally dramatic plot that the Academy loves, but everything else about it screams gold.
‘La La Land’ gets a 9.0/10.
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!