I am late to the party as far as La La Land goes, having just seen it here recently. I, of course, had heard all the praise being heaped upon Damien Chazelle’s newest directorial effort, so I put aside my general indifference towards musicals and took my better half to go see it. Now I’m not saying I hate musicals, they just have never really been my cup of tea, aside from Grease. It would be fair to say that my expectations were tempered heading into the film.
After sitting through the little over two-hour runtime, I left the theater having thoroughly enjoyed the movie. After Whiplash and now La La Land, I will give anything Damien Chazelle directs a chance. His direction in this film is very well executed, as are most other aspects.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have always had great chemistry together, evident by all the times they have been cast together at this point. Mia (Stone) is an aspiring actress who has been living in Los Angeles for a few years, trying to get her career off the ground. Sebastian (Gosling) is a jazz musician who dreams of owning his own jazz club in the heart of L.A. They end up running into each other a couple times before starting their relationship while each trying to achieve their lifelong goals.
One of the things I love about this movie is that both Mia and Sebastian feel like real people. They don’t always have their shit together, they aren’t always the most likable people, and their reasoning behind some of their decision making isn’t always the most logical. However, that is part of what makes them compelling characters.
Now let’s get into the musical parts of the movie. Quite honestly, I didn’t really care for the first two songs in the film. I enjoyed the opening dance number but the song that went along with it just didn’t do it for me. With that being the case, it truthfully took me a good 25 minutes or so to really get into the feel of the film. After that point though, I was drawn in for the rest of the running time. As far as the songs go, “City of Stars” is my favorite of them all, and it is probably the least bombastic and upbeat of the bunch.
Now there have been some criticisms of this film that I have been hearing from a few people here and there, and I honestly find most of them to be unfounded. For instance, one complaint I have heard is that there are very few black people in a film primarily about jazz. I must disagree. Other than Gosling, the vast majority of the actors that portray jazz musicians in the film are black, which they should be, so I don’t really see where that accusation against the film is coming from. I have also heard people criticizing the ending for being non-committal. That is just plain incorrect. They are one hundred percent committed to their ending, and the scene that they are referring to is a vital scene in my opinion, but I will not spoil it here.
Are Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling the best singers or dancers in the world? No, but that is the point. This isn’t a musical about amazingly talented singers and dancers tearing up the streets of Los Angeles. It is a musical about two people whose main talents lie elsewhere, but they still love to sing and dance together anyways. That is not to say that they aren’t still good at those things, but that is another complaint I have heard about the film that I wanted to address.
The city of Los Angeles itself is represented in beautiful duality in La La Land. In some scenes you see the amazing side of the city that makes you feel like you want to live there immediately. Then in other scenes you see the underhanded, absurd aspects of the “City of Angels” that makes you want no part of it. I love the fact that it wasn’t represented as an extreme on either side, but instead as what every city is, a combination of both good and bad.
At the end of the day, La La Land is a beautifully shot film with solid performances from both of its leads, although I don’t believe either of them are quite Oscar worthy with the level of competition this year. After struggling to connect with the film for the first half hour or so, I ended up getting completely absorbed in its aesthetic and surprisingly heartfelt story about two people trying to decide what they are willing to sacrifice for their dreams. I walked out of this film liking it much more than I expected to, and I now can’t wait to see what Chazelle has in store next.