Fall in La La Love With La La Land!


Director Damien Chazelle’s opus to classic studio musicals isn’t without flaws, but the music and magic triumph over everything.

We’ve all said it at some point this year: 2016 sucked. After coping with the abundance of celebrity deaths and post-election blues, we need a pick-me-up. Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is just the pick-me-up we need; it’s a big hearty bowl of chicken soup for the soul. When you put it like that it sounds cheesy and unappetizing, but La La Land is a tribute to the world of classic cinema, particularly the on-screen musicals of the 1940’s. With its candy-coated color palette and Emma Stone’s earth-shattering performance, there’s plenty of love found within La La Land to cure what’s ailed you throughout 2016.

Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a recently fired pianist with  dreams of opening his own jazz club. The two fall in love, intent on achieving their dreams together. But what they soon discover is their dreams might not happen if they’re a couple.

Who’d have thunk the director of Whiplash, the loud, aggressive drama that won J.K. Simmons an Oscar, had dreams of making a musical? La La Land is a de facto retread of musicals like Singin’ in the Rain and Top Hat. Its finale draws from Gene Kelly’s An American in Paris with a romantic storyline borrowed from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Between this and Hail, Caesar!, TCM fans were spoiled this year.

Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz set the tone with a bubbly, jubilant dance number on the 105/110 interchange in Los Angeles. Characters break into song, getting out of their cars before engaging in a high-octane performance with a full house band. Suffice it to say you’ll know from this point whether you buy what La La Land’s selling. Stone and Gosling turn L.A. into their romantic canvas. Chazelle combines the romanticism and magic with a Los Angeles we all dream exists. The defunct Rialto Theater, the Warner Bros. studios and Griffith Observatory all make appearances, their own characters ingrained in popular culture through their deep associations with cinema. There’s as much reverence for the world of filmmaking as there is the romance between Sebastian and Mia.

Avoiding the film’s more “twee” moments is a lesson in futility. Several scenes, including the opening, leave you wondering if the gang’s going to buy the world a Coke. Despite their high-falutin’ dreams and Sebastian’s first-act unemployment, they both have little trouble affording nice apartments with L.A. rent prices.

But to critique these moments of reality is to willfully ignore La La Land’s true intentions: creating magic. Sebastian and Mia’s surreal dance through the galaxy courtesy of the Griffith Park Observatory’s Planetarium play out in locations imbued with the fantasies of countless movie fans. Old Hollywood images, like Mia’s giant photo of Ingrid Bergman on her way, are both packed with the hopes and dreams of everyone who’s ever traveled to Hollywood while providing character context.

Ryan Gosling is sufficiently gorgeous, but it’s hard supporting his character who changes his principles quicker than his socks. The true stand-out, and the one with the greatest Oscar chances, is Emma Stone. Chazelle wants his Rainbow Connection-esque characters to be dreamers who dream, but Stone embodies that best. The struggling actress is an overabundant cliche, especially in L.A. stories, but Stone’s performance is filled with tenderness. Watching someone walk into the middle of her audition as she’s poring her heart out crushes the audience as much as her. Stone’s face illustrates the hurt and betrayal she feels. The fact she still gets up every morning and goes is a testament to Mia’s inner strength.

Any significant problems appear in the middle. Chazelle commits so fully to the musical paradigm in the beginning and end, yet abandons the conceit pretty abruptly to get the characters through the “won’t they” period of their relationship. Gosling and Stone are still great actors,  but the film’s momentum grinds to a halt as severe as rush-hour traffic. There have been musicals detailing the demise of a relationship with songs (see Richard LaGravanese’s The Last Five Years), so it’s frustrating watching Chazelle pick up and put down the musical narrative with such sloppy hands.

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The dreamy, hazy world of Los Angeles has never looked better and cinematography and editing Oscars will be a cinch to secure. Stone also looks to have a serious chance at a win on her hands. In spite of Chazelle’s amateurish work in regards to narrative trajectory, La La Land is a special picture. With a beautiful world of vanilla skies and a song in your heart, you can’t do better than the presentation on-screen. Watch the movie, buy the soundtrack, and fall in love.