La La Land

There’s a lot going on with La La Land, including a great deal of Oscar buzz. If you’re a fan of the early movie musicals like Singin’ in the Rain, you’re going to love this LA homage to the musicals of the past.

Release Date: December 25, 2016
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

La La Land follows with romance of frustrated jazz musician, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and struggling actress, Mia (Emma Stone). Sebastian languishes playing in piano bars hoping one day to open his own jazz club in Los Angeles. Mia works as a barista in a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers studio lot. She hopes one day to become a successful actress.

Through a series of coincidental and non-coincidental encounters, our heroes meet, fight, one-up each other and fall in love. Did I mention this is a musical? All this happens through song and dance.  Did I also mention the movie takes place in Los Angeles? All this happens at various iconic LA landmarks.

The love story of La La Land intertwines the dreams of our two star-crossed lovers. Mia is a struggling actress looking for that all important first role. After a series of rejections and disappointments, Mia produces her heartfelt one-woman show as her final chance to be discovered.

Sebastian, on the other hand, laments the decline of jazz. He gives Mia an impassioned lesson on jazz theory and turns her into a convert (sort of). Sebastian hopes, one day, to open his own Jazz club…and start a relationship with Mia. Though, neither pays enough to support his dream–let alone a relationship.

If you like musicals, La La Land was made just for you. Writer/Director Damien Chazelle offers his homage to the Hollywood musical of the past. La La Land is clearly the over-the-top musical from opening number featuring dozens of singer-dancers strutting their stuff on a gridlocked freeway traffic, dancing in the stars at Griffith Observatory to the surreal ending akin to Gene Kelly’s ballet finale of Singin’ in the Rain.

The songs also have the feel of the musicals of long ago. Composer Justin Hurwitz wrote actual songs for our characters and not the sing/talk songs of Broadway. The music of La La Land is above average. The musical themes are fantastic, but sadly the lyrics are forgettable. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are above average dancers and average singers, but they convincingly play the roles of lovers and artists. I don’t know if Gosling can actually play the piano at the level his character should, but the way the piano playing is shot is extremely convincing.

La La Land is a hard sell to the non-theater geek. It’s clearly not for everyone. Actors instantly break into song. They dance in inexplicable locations and the story follows one cliché after the other. I get it. It’s weird, but musicals have the ability to lift our souls to the heavens (with a little suspension of disbelief). The song and dance of La La Land convey the beauty of love, the giddy fun of falling in love and the melancholy of losing your dream. That’s why we go to musicals.

By no means is La La Land a perfect movie. It drags severely in the third act. I really wanted to see this movie wrap up quickly. Like many of this year’s Oscar contenders, the ending saves the movie. Good movies tap into your emotions and force you to feel and connect with the emotions of the characters good or bad. The ending of La La Land connects with you and uplifts your spirits with the love of the two main characters.

9 out of 10 stars

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