Feb-7-2017

Reel Snippet – La La Land

Summary: Los Angeles is the city of dreams where our two leads try to make theirs come true. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who works in a cafe on the Warner Bros lot. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) works for peanuts as a jazz pianist, but dreams of opening his own club. The two meet and though it’s initially rocky, they soon blossom into a romance right out of an old Hollywood movie. But life is anything but a movie; bills, hardships, and other pressures from the real world begin to crowd in, forcing them to make decisions that seem to compromise their original life goals… and possibly their relationship together.

Review: La La Land was simply delightful. I’m serious, my description doesn’t even begin to do it justice. A modern story combined with an old-timey Hollywood musical like Singin’ in the Rain is pretty inspired, meshing the current sensibilities with the whimsy of old. But it still manages to be sobering at the same time, giving us a taste of the dream and then hitting us with a harsh-but-fair dose of reality. The director, Damien Chazelle, also directed Whiplash back in 2014 and this is definitely more optimistic, so we can definitely say that he isn’t a one-trick pony.

Mia and Sebastian are fully fleshed out characters in their own right, with their own strengths, faults, likes, dislikes, and unique charms. When they first come together, their romance is very sweet and believable, leading to a number of visually and emotionally touching moments. And yes, this is the third film they’ve costarred in together, but they seriously have amazing chemistry so it just works. This also makes their hardships more heartbreaking when they surface because you really want these two to work together, even though they’re in one of the most competitive businesses out there.

The film is great about respectfully jabbing L.A., like the fact that it goes through all four seasons and all of them are identical (the film was actually shot eight weeks in the summer, but who can tell the difference) or the fact that practically every car is a Prius. But it’s not mean-spirited; it’s still a loving tribute to the city of dreams while still showing that not every dream comes true. It knows what it is: a musical about love and growth, so it doesn’t get distracted by other views that the author wanted to expound.

If I did have one complaint, it’s that the singing isn’t the greatest. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s clear that these actors were not from a singing background. There’s no Idina Menzels, Hugh Jackmans, or Jesse L. Martins in this piece. Most of the singing is fairly subdued and underplayed, save for Emma Stone’s final number where she gets to let loose a little more. Still, it’s not anywhere near as bad as Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia!, so they clearly had a good coach behind the scenes. On that note, the songs are fantastic and I would absolutely buy the soundtrack.

It feels strange that such a positive, upbeat movie came out of such a dismal year, but that’s the power of good filmmaking. This is a different kind of escape: putting a nice filter on everything, but not sugarcoating harsh truths either. I’d say it’s definitely worth a watch, especially with all the Oscars it’s been nominated for. Just because something’s old-fashioned, doesn’t mean it’s out of style.

Fun Tidbit: So between this and Whiplash, it’s clear that Damien Chazelle has an intense fascination with jazz, as both movies go into the history and theory of it while making it integral to the plot. J.K. Simmons even appears as an antagonist in both movies, though in Whiplash he was obsessed with jazz and here he actively hates it.


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