LA LA LAND (USA/PG/128mins)
Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons
THE PLOT: Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), an aspiring actress and a jazz pianist with dreams of opening his own nightclub, fall in love after they cross one another’s paths time and again. As their dreams become ever closer, their aspirations begin to pull them apart.
THE VERDICT: Directed by Damien Chazelle, ‘La La Land’ is a complete change of pace from the director’s first feature length film ‘Whiplash’. ‘La La Land’ is a beautiful and gentle love story that captures the romantic feel of old Hollywood musicals, as Gosling and Stone sing and dance their way through their romance and their careers.
Emma Stone is luminous in the leading role as Mia; there is an old Hollywood feel to Stone and her character, and she inhabits Mia, making her feel real and utterly relatable as she tries to juggle everything she ever wanted as it all lands in her lap at the wrong time. Ryan Gosling fares less well, since he is trying to keep up with the glittering Stone, but his singing voice is beautiful, and he makes Sebastian the right kind of romantic as he struggles to make the choice between what’s easy and what he actually wants. The rest of the cast features J.K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt, and John Legend.
Damien Chazelle’s screenplay for ‘La La Land’ has been a labour of love for the writer/director as he spent years trying to convince studios that the musical is not as dead as once thought. The love story between Mia and Sebastian feels light and airy, and the struggles Chazelle went through to get the film made have obviously been poured into the characters on screen. The original songs created for the film capture the feeling of new love, in all its excitement and joy, and Gosling and Stone’s voices work beautifully together and alone. The dialogue for the film is strong, but there are times when the story becomes tangled in what it is trying to convey, leaving the film feeling drawn out and unfocused. The film manages to recover, but this does mean that the film can feel drawn out and much longer than its 128 minute running time.
As director Damien Chazelle casts the Hollywood studio system as a character in the film, making it both the thing that draws the two characters together and pulls them apart. The film has an old-fashioned feel in the best possible way, feeling both like a Gene Kelly musical of the past, and a modern love story. The songs are evenly spread throughout the film, which never feels as though it is laden with music at the expense of story or honest conversations. There are times when the pacing struggles with the time frame of the story, and untangling story threads means the film feels sluggish. It is a delight to spend time with Sebastian and Mia, but the film often feels way longer than it actually is.
In all, ‘La La Land’ is beautifully old-fashioned, while breathing fresh air into the musical genre, which of late seems to be populated with jukebox musicals and stage shows being dragged onto the screen. Gosling and Stone are wonderful together, and make the characters feel real, and their connection strong. Chazelle’s script and songs are strong, but there are times when the story trips over itself, and the pacing grinds to a halt. ‘La La Land’ is something special, however, and Gosling and Stone get this love story singing.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning Whiplash, is every bit as eye-catching and attuned to the musical ear as its predecessor, but it’s also a bold step forward for the 31-year-old director. It won’t be long before it casts a spell on everyone with its joyous and yet bittersweet modern love story with echoes of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

    Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who lives in Los Angeles. Working a day job in a studio lot cafe, she has yet to make her name and thereby has to go through the frequently disappointing audition process. Disillusioned with her lack of progress one Christmas evening, she stops by a bar where she hears a soulful piano piece being played by jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). He’s been given a set list of Christmas music to play, but his heart isn’t in it. He wants to become a respected jazz pianist but hasn’t found a way to make it all work just yet. Their paths cross again in the spring at a party and they strike up an instant connection. They gradually fall for each other and dance and sing away to express their emotions, discovering that their fates are written in the stars. But are their life goals compatible with each other?

    La La Land opens with a musical number on a Los Angeles freeway, as people escape the drudgery of traffic delays by letting some joy into their hearts. It’s a superb, well-choreographed sequence that is a clear statement of what to expect from this film – a musical that knows it’s a musical, but isn’t going to milk it endlessly (looking at you, Les Miserables). Instead, it’s a musical that tips its hat to the classic Hollywood musicals but also takes its own direction for a more modern, realistic perspective. It’s a very sophisticated, classy film which has been well-thought out by Chazelle. Working from his script, he dazzles both the eyes and ears with some wonderfully-designed (but not over-choreographed) musical numbers. There’s a beautiful simplicity to these sequences which transition smoothly, like the Griffith Observatory one – a respectful nod to Rebel Without A Cause.

    Working for the third time together, Gosling and Stone have their onscreen chemistry down to a tee now, but they find some charming playfulness in their dialogue and a very warm, real sense of humour in their courtship. The relationship between Mia and Sebastian is credible and real, but with a dash of fantasy. The title is a nod to the City of the Angels, a sprawling city which can often be regarded with indifference and cynicism by filmmakers. Chazelle is clearly in love with his subject, shooting it with a painterly eye and catching that famous magic-hour, golden-brown Los Angeles light in a way that would make Michael Bay envious. It’s a gorgeous film to look at and listen to – a feast for the senses.

    La La Land is a very hard film to fault. It’s supremely confident, thoughtful, beautiful, funny, sweet, bittersweet, fantastical, realistic and many other descriptions. The thing that stands out the most though is that it’s a love letter to both Los Angeles and its lifeblood – the movies that course through its veins. The film even makes a nod to Cinemascope, with an ultra-widescreen ratio of 2.55:1. An elegant blend of both the old and the new with its own distinct voice, La La Land is exquisite filmmaking and is fully deserving of any Oscars coming its way. A film for dreamers everywhere. *****

  • emerb

    2017 got off to a great start for me moviewise with “La La Land”. Writer-director Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) pays homage to the great studio musicals of the 1940s and 1950s with a magnificent, exhilarating, stylized and wildly ambitious film which is without a doubt the best movie I have seen in months. It opens with a boldly elaborate production number titled “Another Day of Sun,” set in the middle of a seemingly endless traffic jam on the freeway. Dozens of motorists leave their cars and pour out onto the streets while dancing, skateboarding, fan-dancing, stunt-biking and singing. It’s an incredibly dazzling opening sequence and one that sets the scene for the enjoyment to come over the following 2 hours, a nostalgic boy-meets-girl romance told through wonderful
    musical numbers and charming dance sequences that, for me, is what true movie entertainment and enjoyment is all about. It stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as Sebastian and Mia, two struggling aspiring artists — he a jazz musician, she an actress who fall in love while trying to make it in Los Angeles.

    Mia works as a barista on a studio lot. She finds herself serving coffee to movie stars and catching glimpses of Hollywood literally just outside the door and longs to get a job as an actress but it’s just not working out and she is painfully surrounded by reminders that life hasn’t exactly worked as she planned when she left home years ago with stars in her eyes. Meanwhile, the Sebastian is a pianist who stubbornly clings to his dream of opening an old-school jazz club.
    However, he has to make ends meet by playing to crowds in a posh supperclub
    where J.K. Simmons plays the jazz-hating owner and he even has to resort to joining a cheesy 1980s cover band. He’s all too aware that his dream may be forever beyond his reach. Things get complicated, though, when they meet and fall in love. Relationships and burgeoning careers don’t always mix. While Sebastian takes a job with a band on tour (John Legend plays his old friend), Mia mounts a one-woman show about her life which she stages at one of LA’s many empty theatres. The film doesn’t rush their romance, instead following their parallel tracks in pursuit of their dreams leading to all manner of arguments about art, ambition, ideals and compromise.

    The cast shines and not for the first time, Gosling and Stone are just magical together and exhibit a palpable chemistry. They quickly establish an easy rapport and while neither is a particularly skilled dancer or singer, they give polished performances that deserve all their awards recognition this season. Stone in particular is a revelation, she is spectacular and her performance as an artist who feels she is never going to be more than a barista, is adorable. After years of solid work in various genres, she comes alive here as never before and she is reason enough to see this movie. Gosling also gives a career-defining performance. He is perfectly cast as the stubbornly idealistic jazz pianist and aspiring club owner who is both coolly introspective yet utterly charming Sebastian. J.K. Simmons and Rosemarie DeWitt have minor but memorable roles
    and John Legend as Sebastian’s former music partner holds his own too. Chazelle’s direction is captivating and innovative. The sets and costumes are beautiful, the staging and choreography are top class, the songs are witty and apt and the bright and bouncy dance numbers are stylish and exuberant. To add to that, he invests the characters with charm so that we actually care about their heartfelt story. This is pure escapist, intoxicating movie watching and I loved every magical minute. “La La Land” is one of the best films I have seen in a long time, a much needed relief from the endless string of remakes, blockbusters or empty comedies. Make no mistake, this is a musical and characters can break out into song and dance at any minute without warning but I firmly believe
    that a more joyful, uplifting and fresh adult movie will not be found this
    year!