Being a grown man, it is not always easy to admit that you enjoyed a musical, or a “chick flick.” That should tell you how great this movie really was. I didn’t just enjoy it – I was blown away.
I first heard about La La Land this past summer when I was looking up movies that were coming out this coming Hollywood awards season. Based on everything I was hearing, specifically about how well it was received at the Venice Film Festival, I was highly optimistic and knew this would be a must-see when it debuted to the masses around Christmas. It was well worth the wait.
La La Land tells the story of Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician and enthusiast, falling for a struggling actress named Mia (Emma Stone) upon their random meeting in a nightclub.
Also, I want to add that this story takes place during the present day, not in the 1950s or any other past decade that I’ve heard some people incorrectly assume.
Anyway, both Sebastian (referred to as “Seb”) and Mia are struggling at finding success in the cutthroat world of Hollywood, and take solace in each other’s career woes. They find themselves dreaming big dreams together. Seb wants to bring back “real” jazz to the world and own a jazz club/restaurant, while Mia wants to become a world-renown actress, starting from the ground up through a one-woman play that she wrote and stars in herself.
Ironically, the successes of the two are what contributed to the doubts in their relationship.
Without saying much else about the outcome, this movie at times reminded me of another great movie, and favorite of mine, 500 Days of Summer. I think the plot template of the man meeting the woman through random circumstances, falling in love and having a tumultuous period that tests their relationship is a good one that works because it’s real. Both of these movies, as well as others now more frequently than ever before, leave you satisfied without the typical ending. Not only that, but it leaves you questioning if you would have even wanted an alternative, typical ending, since that type of ending may not be what’s ultimately best for those characters in that particular story.
By no means am I an avid fan of musicals. In fact, they normally are not my cup of tea at all. However, La La Land is different and left me heavily sipping on its Kool-Aid. It’s not just a musical. It’s definitely not just a “chick flick.” I look at La La Land as our generation’s timeless contribution to the “musical” genre of cinema. It picks up where classics of yesteryear left off – classics like The Jazz Singer, Singing in the Rain and Grease. Sure, we’ve had highly acclaimed musicals like Chicago and Moulin Rouge within the past decade or two, but I believe La La Land is the best of the new class.
La La Land was written and directed by Damien Chazelle. Aside from the fact that the movie was superb is the mind-blowing fact that Chazelle is only 31 years old! I can’t even imagine at my current age, the same as Chazelle, being the director of two major Hollywood films and both of them being nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards (the other being Whiplash). Chazelle’s vision and directorial style was as dazzling to the eye as the music of the film was to the ears (the musical score by Justin Hurwitz is one for the ages and compliments the film masterfully). I am so excited for his future and intrigued at what amazing works he will give to the world next.
Not only did Chazelle create a remarkable film and a successful musical in the 21st century (which is extremely hard to do), but he also created a precedence for other films of this type. Perhaps he will open the door to new millennial musicals. Even if it doesn’t, I truly believe had this movie been made and released in any other past decade it would have been just as successful. This movie goes head-to-head extremely well with the aforementioned musical greats of the past and stands its ground.
This is Emma Stone’s best role to date, which could be in part because this role was somewhat autobiographical for her (she dropped out of school at the early age of 15 to pursue her own acting career). In addition, her on-screen chemistry with Gosling is highly captivating.
I really think La La Land is in line to be nominated for anywhere between 8 and 11 Oscars, including Best Picture. It is a colorful and smart new-age musical using the brilliant backdrop of Los Angeles as its stage. We find ourselves following Stone and Gosling’s relationship as closely as the fans their characters desperately want to acquire in their respective careers. The way Chazelle tells this new school musical through old school jazz and vintage cinematography is simply awesome. The ending of the film is beautiful, classy and brilliantly ambiguous. It’s very rare that I give out a perfect score to any movie, but this one came extremely close.
La La Land is a perfect title for this film because it represents so many things. In its simplest form, the title represents the mindset and lifestyle of those who live in the city of Los Angeles, or L.A. for short (ah, see how they did that?).
It also represents the dream world we all have found ourselves living in at one time or another in our lives. It could represent a utopia where you fall in love with the object of your infatuations, even though in reality that person is just an anonymous, apathetic figure across the room who doesn’t even know you’re there. It could represent living out your dreams of reaching the pinnacle of your profession, and having all of your hard work pay off. For some, it can simply mean somehow finding appropriate peace in their real world that is full of hostility and emptiness. The title channels some, if not all, of these emotions inside each of us.
Like Mia and Seb, we have all been to La La Land, but leaving is always so hard.
MATTER RATING: 9.5/10
OSCAR RATING: 10/10
BY: CHRIS GUEST