Hype is a dangerous thing.
Too little of it will leave a movie’s showing with tons of empty seats. Too much, and you raise skepticism in the masses. The movie never lives up to the growing expectations and tanks before you know it. Tonight (as of this writing), preview audiences are going to be packed with fans waiting to catch the latest Star Wars film. While I hope it works out for them, there’s another film moving into a wider release this weekend that deserves just as much love. Right now, La La Land is heavily hyped, and hopefully will be part of every major awards run. I still want to try to catch some of the other soon to be nominated films for the Awards season, but I’m good for right now. I’m that kid in the corner, totally content with that one little Transformer he always wanted while other presents still need to be opened. Unless I run into another film that captures my eye (and ears) like this one, La La Land is easily my go to pick for everything this year. It’s a fun little love story wrapped up in musical dance numbers, my feel good movie.
For me, that’s saying a lot. Outside of the usual Disney film, I don’t see too many musicals. I can count on one hand a few favorites – Frank Oz’s movie version of Little Shop of Horrors, Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge, both Muppet films and of course West Side Story. However, I’ve never watched Singing in the Rain, or any of the Astaire/Rogers numbers. The opening dance sequence in Ted 2 might be the closest I’ve come to all that, or maybe the French Mistake in Blazing Saddles. However, I walked out of La La Land with a huge smile on my face, one that prompted me to run right back in for the next showing. This isn’t meant to convince you to see the film or not. If you do, cool. If you don’t, that’s fine. I just know that I’ll be scooping this up come the Blu-Ray release. This review is me, geeking out.
La La Land is a very simple story. In Los Angeles, Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who meets Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a lover of Jazz who’s fighting to keep it alive. Both individuals are fighting to fulfill their dreams, and it’s hard not to root for them. This leads to a friendship that grows, surrounded by great music. For the story, that’s all you really need to know, and to go into more detail risks going into spoiler territory. It’s a classic Boy Meets Girl in the Big City situation.
Having worked together in Gangster Land and Crazy Stupid Love, Stone and Gosling already have some great chemistry. The dialogue pops between them and is very reminiscent of some of the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan films. With the conversation style, coupled with Damien Chazelle’s writing, it all feels very natural. Both of their characters come across as passionate individuals when it comes to the talent of their choice. The cast also includes singer John Legend, Callie Hernandez (Blair Witch), Jessica Rothe (Better Off Single), and Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina). If I have one problem with La La Land, it would just be that I wanted to see more of the co-stars, but the film truly belongs to the leads. At least in a film like Grease, you were at least aware of the supporting cast and their stories. It’s a tiny nitpick, but it doesn’t get in the way of the story’s progression.
Visually, La La Land is full of rich colors and deep shadows. When there’s a change in lighting or a focus made, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. Linus Sandgren (American Hustle, Joy) does a great job here and I’m adding him to my list of Cinematographers to keep an eye on. The movie feels like a classic film from start to finish. The editing deserves some kudos as well. Every scene feels like it grew naturally from the one before it, and there’s rarely a moment where you ask yourself if one scene needed to be there if there were any holes to be found. If there was an editing mistake in La La Land, I couldn’t find it.
As with Guy and Madeline On a Park Bench & Whiplash, it wouldn’t be a Chazelle film without music. Justin Hurwitz is on music duty here and La La Land’s music is in some places snappy. I picked up the soundtrack after the movie, and there’s a good chance that some of that music is going to get stuck in your head. Emma Stone may get some recognition come awards season with one song in particular, but overall it’s difficult not to listen to some of these and not want to nod your head with the crowd. On my exit after the second showing, there were people humming and/or whistling the tunes.
Overall, La La Land is a wonderful film that reminds one of the beauty of the Cinema Experience, with a pair of characters that make you want to cheer them on. Really, if you have a chance to see this in the theatre, do so. Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself with a spring in your step too on the way out.