Review -La La Land

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by Kevin Muller

What more can you say about “La La Land” that already hasn’t been said?  They say it is a masterpiece of a movie that is about ambition, dreams, and hope, all set against original music and beautiful dancing.  They say Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have one of a kind chemistry and are also individually incredible.  Yes, a lot has been said about this film and most of it is true.

Mia, played by Stone, is a struggling actress who is starting to lose hope with achieving her big break.  Each audition she goes on solidifies the fact that her dream may just remain a “pipe dream,” as she says herself.  In the same desolation is an aspiring Jazz musician named Sebastian.  He wants to spread the genre of music to a wider audience that has little to no knowledge or appreciation for real Jazz.  Instead, he is stuck playing gigs at local cocktail lounges, where he is assigned to only play cheap and easy songs, or demeaning himself at local house parties playing the hits of yesterday.  These two characters meet, inspire each other, and begin to fall in love.

The film is the second feature from director Damien Chazelle.   Two years ago he burst on the scene with the incredible film “Whiplash.”  While this film doesn’t have anywhere near the same raw energy as that one, it is one that has a respectable love for music as much as it does for film making.  It is that balance that makes this such a delight to watch.  Chazelle, clearly inspired by the musicals of yesteryear, is clear that this is a musical.  There is no hiding the fact that these characters break into song and dance, like 2002’s “Chicago,” at numerous times during the hundred and twenty minute length.  The story is a very simplistic one about art, love, and never giving up on your dreams.  Either way, the director and the two stars sell it both so well and hard that it is more than worth your time and money.

Gosling’s laid back nature is perfect for the role of Sebastian.  He may live in limited means but his love for Mia and his music is true.   Gosling, who definitely sells the Jazz loving passion written by Chazelle, has a Frank Sinatra swagger to his musical performance.  His low singing voice shows a man that feels lonely in a world of sell outs.  As good as he is, it is Stone who has her time to shine as our main protagonist.   It has been ten years since she burst on the scene and she has added such charm to every role she has been in.   Here, she uses her gifts to give Mia such a lovable nature in a world of such ruthless rejection.   The hardships and struggle of her career choice linger in her being, but Stone is careful not to make her an overly tragic character.   Many will be happily surprised when they hear America’s favorite red head belt out a tune.  Though she doesn’t have an extremely powerful voice, it is enough to convey her character’s journey throughout the film.

Chazelle is a real gift.   The colors he brings to this L.A. are vibrantly dark.   There are a lot of blues, greens, and neon colors that fill the screen and it definitely gives this modern musical an old school noir type feel.     The music is provided by Chazelle’s friend and Harvard alum Justin Hurwitz.   It is just a delight to hear a musical with original music and not one that has covered pop songs or has been adapted from previous material.   The music is great and very catchy to listen to.   Chazelle gives the songs their due with beautiful imagery and sublime direction.  The opening scene, which was really shot on the location, is awe inspiring to behold.  It sets up the masterful craftsmanship this film contains.

“La, La, Land” is masterfully directed.  Any flaws that exist, which are incredibly minor, are overshadowed by work, on all accounts, that is just flawless and extremely professional.  Hopefully, this will open doors for original musicals to make a slight comeback.  It will be hard to match this film though because it is just a wonder to behold.
GRADE: B+

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