La La Land (4 out of 4 stars)


You’ve probably heard all about this movie by now. It’s pretty much the only movie that people are really talking about, and everyone’s opinion on this movie has been floating around for at least a month. So if you want the short version, here it is: La La Land is the best movie I’ve seen in theaters in a long time. It’s a great film: the kind of soaring, beautifully crafted hand-made musical that belongs in the same category as other great musicals like Cabaret or The King and I, with an ending that absolutely rips your heart out.

For the uninitiated, La La Land tells the story of an aspiring actress named Mia (played by Emma Stone) and a jazz pianist named Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling), who is attempting to prompt a revival in old school jazz. They fall deeply in love, but are steadily driven apart when their respective goals begin to conflict with their relationship.

So what exactly is it that makes La La Land so good? From the synopsis I just gave you, the movie probably doesn’t sound particularly remarkable. For one thing, the movie looks absolutely stunning. Setting aside the fact that the camerawork is extremely engaging and fluid in its own right, each scene has incredible vibrancy. The primary colors of the costumes, the scenery, and the props almost seem to pop out of the screen, giving the impression that each frame is its own separate story. The also takes a lot of chances with its imagery; There are multiple fantastical song and dance sequences that feel like they came out of the more experimental parts of Singin’ in the Rain or An American in Paris. Writer/director Damien Chazelle managed to make both a visually appealing and an emotionally engrossing movie, a feat best exemplified in the film’s opening scene, a mesmerizing and hypnotically energetic one-take song and dance sequence taking place in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Speaking of which, the music is very strong and catchy. It’s not the most memorable score in film, and to be perfectly honest a lot of it sounds the same, but it gets under your skin and into your head in the right kind of way, and it’s very peppy and manages very successfully to keep the upbeat nature alive through most of the film.

But ultimately, this film wouldn’t work without Emma Stone’s Mia and Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian. Their chemistry is absolutely fantastic, and their every conversation and exchange feels natural and authentic. Both Gosling and Stone bare their souls in every scene and in every song, giving honest and down-to earth performances that make both characters instantly sympathetic and understandable. Stone will probably walk away from this with a Best Actress trophy as a consequence of having the more developed character and a downright moving solo but Gosling really shines as well, giving an instantly endearing performance as a traditional jazz zealot that would have been insufferable in lesser hands.

La La Land is a bit of revelation. I haven’t seen a movie in a long time that was so defiantly optimistic in the face of modern-day cynicism and yet still authentically old Hollywood, with all the flashy elegance and positive energy that accompanies it. Go see La La Land. You won’t regret it.

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