La La Land has been on every critic’s radar ever since it premiered to rave reviews at the fall film festivals. The homage to classic Hollywood movie musicals is the sophomore effort of Damien Chazelle, who directed the Sundance darling Whiplash in 2014. Instead of going off to direct a big budget studio film, Chazelle settled for this project. A musical with original music, which hasn’t been seen in years (in mainstream cinema at the very least). Even for someone who isn’t a huge fan of movie musicals, I absolutely fell in love with La La Land. In light of the depressing reality and times that we live in, we need a big and bright classic movie musical like this.
La La Land is a love letter to Los Angeles and the entertainment industry that dominates the town. It follows a year in the lives of Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone). Sebastian is an aspiring jazz musician and Mia an aspiring actress. Nothing really goes right for any of them before they meet one another, as Mia struggles to find acting jobs and Sebastian struggles to keep a lasting job. The film then shows the trials and tribulations of their relationship as each of them has their share of success and failure in this year-long story.
Chazelle wrote this film on top of directing it, which came to his mind as he was a struggling musician/filmmaker in 2010. After the immediate success of Whiplash in 2014, he was finally able to get this film off of the ground. What makes La La Land so damn charming and wonderful is its inspired nature. The film is very much a tribute to the classic Hollywood musicals that were incredibly prominent in the Golden Age of the film industry. Gosling and Stone sing and dance their way through one musical number after another, and it never feels forced or unnatural. The songs, which are original orchestrations by Chazelle’s Harvard pal Justin Hurwitz (who scored Whiplash), and the songs written by the writing duo of Pasek and Paul, feel almost like staples from that era. They don’t feel tacked on or an afterthought. Music is obviously very important to Chazelle, so the attention to detail in the music both on-screen and in the sound of the film is top-notch.
The music on top of the actual musical numbers are jaw-dropping. Many of the sequences are shot in either one take or really long tracking shots. The film opens up with a fantastic shot of a traffic jam on a LA freeway turned into a big and bright musical number. Sequences of Stone and Gosling tap-dancing their way in the Hollywood hills, Stone and her friends getting ready for a party all in one take, and so on. Everything about the musical sequences is really wonderful, which again this is coming from a guy who doesn’t really like movie musicals all that much.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are so damn charming and wonderful in this film that it’s almost insulting. This is their third and best on-screen collaboration yet in their careers, with both of them giving the best performances yet. Gosling as the charming but jazz-obsessed snob and Stone as the idealistic but disappointed aspiring actress is are both incredible. There’s actual substance to these characters, and this is on top of the incredible musical numbers. You start to fall in love with these characters as the film progresses, and you begin to feel the unease they feel when their careers and relationships hit rocky ground.
The film also has some brief but memorable supporting performances sprinkled throughout the film. J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for Chazelle’s Whiplash, makes a cameo as an employer of Gosling. And John Legend gives a solid albeit brief performance as a former musical companion of Gosling. The supporting players are nice, but the real stars of this film are Gosling and Stone, and each time they’re on-screen is pure cinematic bliss.
In short, I loved La La Land. It’s a love note to the city of angels that can’t be as evil as it is forgiving. This feels like a Best Picture-winner, and you won’t see me complaining when that ends up being the case. The music’s great, the direction and story is great, the performances are great. I honest to god could not find a single flaw in the film, other than after that incredible opening its a little slow for a few minutes but it really starts to pick up. This is the first film I’ve seen in a long time in which I want to go see it in the theaters again and again. I’ve been playing the soundtrack almost non-stop ever since I saw the film a few days ago and I don’t plan on stopping that trend for the rest of 2016. This year has sucked, and you deserve to see the miracle of a film that is La La Land, the best film of 2016.