Monday, March 6, 2017

Movie Review: LA LA LAND (2016) Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling


Director: Damien Chazelle
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Musical
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno
Runtime: 128 min
Rating: PG-13 for some language
Purchasing Links: DVD, Blu-ray

Read the review after the jump.


Review by Popa Razvan

Writer/director Damien Chazelle's third feature, "La La Land" is an elaborate and openly sentimental love letter to Hollywood, Jazz and everyone out there who has ever fought for their dreams. Despite its glossy look and happy-go-lucky attitude, it turns out to have a more grounded outlook on life than your average musical.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone reunite for their third movie together as two young aspiring artists living in L.A., and hoping for a big break that could turn their life around. Mia (Stone) wants to be a famous actress, but in-between auditions, she's working as a not-so-glamorous waitress. Sebastian (Gosling) is a jazz musician who is passionate about the music the loves, although no one else seems to share his passion. This makes it really hard for him to land a job, let alone become a popular artist. The two meet, fall in love and struggle with their dreams as life gets ready to serve them a big piece of "you can't win them all".

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The protagonists channel Chazelle's own experiences as he worked his way up to his current success. Unlike the raw anger and dark edge of "Whiplash", "La La Land" is much softer in tone, but has thematic similarities to its predecessor in the fulfillment of dreams through dogged determination and self-sacrifice. Stone and Gosling have a special kind of chemistry that echoes the classic couples of Golden Age Hollywood, and they lend much of their own real-life experiences to these characters. Stone, in particular, steals the show with her vibrant performance. And she can really sing, too, which is a nice surprise.

Despite the singing and dancing, these characters face real dilmmeas and make real decisions that affect the story in a realistic way. That's why the dream-like quality of the musical sequences take on a bittersweet quality as we understand how reality differs from their idealized dreams. It made me recall Lars von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark" in the way it balances the homage to Hollywood's classical musicals and the harshness of real life, but of course von Trier's movie is a gut-wrenching affair drenched in depression, while Chazelle's film is simply hopeful and passionate. It's interesting to study both films as the two directors create completely opposite visions of similar themes. Just make sure you have your Zoloft handy while watching "Dancer in the Dark".

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The music is amazing. Perhaps not on the level of the all-time great musicals, but certainly memorable and hummable. Justin Hurwitz completely deserved his Academy Awards, even though for Best Song I would have preferred to see "How Far I'll Go" from "Moana" win. But, I can understand why the Academy went with "City of Stars". It's a much simpler song, but its melancholic tune and lyrics completely sum up what this movie is all about. It's amazing how it captures so much with so little.

The musical sequences are incredible. The cinematography, which also won an Oscar, is breathtaking. Chazelle wanted to shoot on film, not digitally, in a widescreen format, in order to evoke the look of the classic musicals, and it makes for a gorgeous-looking experience. Another interesting technical tidbit is that each songs was shot in a single take, and it doesn't get much better than the opening sequence, which was filmed on a closed-off portion of the carpool ramp of the Los Angeles highway. It's an impressive scene with more than 100 dancers that took two days to complete. A genuine demonstration of virtuosity from everyone involved.

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"La La Land" is a movie that thrives on the anachronism of the Golden Age musicals and the realism of its modern-day love affair. It's also the kind of movie that is very easy to hate on because of it's happy-go-lucky attitude. In the end, though, the musical elements fit in surprisingly well and the story thankfully never forgets its place in the real world. It's also not a perfect movie. It's not always as brisk as it should be, slowing down a bit halfway through, and some might find it too bubbly for comfort. However, I went in suspicious of what I would find, especially after all the hype, but I left completely charmed by it, and a bit heavy-hearted, too. Few movies can accomplish that.



  • Beautiful music and brilliantly choreographed dance sequences
  • Perfect performances from Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling
  • A good story to go along with the music
  • Plenty of genuine emotion

  • The pacing is a bit off, particularly in the film's middle section



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