La La Land FILM REVIEW
LA LA LAND
Director: Damien Chazelle
Screenplay: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Tom Everett Scott,
Rated PG-13 for some language
Running Time: 2 hours 8 minutes
**** out of *****
Spirits soar and sparks fly when an actress and a jazz pianist meet in Damien Chazelle's LA LA LAND.
Over the last several decades the big "movie musical" has usually been comprised of big-screen adaptations of Broadway hits, like LES MISERABLES or CHICAGO, and animated musicals like FROZEN or MOANA. Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE was probably the last real attempt to bring an original musical spectacle to the big screen. The 1930s, 1940s and 1950s were the golden age of the Hollywood musical. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, ON THE TOWN. Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Judy Garland. Now, in the 21st century, writer-director Damien Chazelle brings the classic Hollywood staple back in a big way with his original movie musical LA LA LAND.
Chazelle's musical has much in common with Michel Hazanavicius' silent film THE ARTIST. Both directors pay homage to Hollywood and the commodity it's best known for...the movies. Both pictures embrace films which audiences have not seen in quite some time, silent films and classic Hollywood musicals. More importantly, both films provide audiences with a fun and entertaining time at the theatre. Despite its contemporary setting, Chazelle's film feels very much like and sounds as though it was cut from the same cloth as those aforementioned classic musicals of yesterday. Characters break out into song and dance and no one bats an eye at how peculiar it looks.
Of course, every musical is judged on its songs and dance numbers. In LA LA LAND, the songs are catchy and the dance numbers are visually appealing and lively. The numbers choreographed by Mandy Moore, who's choreographed a number of David O. Russell's films, often convey feelings and emotion through the movements. The first number between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling on a Hollywood hills street is a breezy and entertaining bit where you can't help but smile. Later in the film they share a magical dance at the Griffith Observatory which feels like it was lifted straight out of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film. Not to be forgotten is the film's opening number where average citizens break out into to song and dance on a backed up freeway on ramp.
When it comes to the performances, the acting is just as important as the singing. If you cast someone who can sing their pants off but can't deliver the drama, and vice versa, you could easily lose the audience. For the lead roles of Mia and Sebastian, Chazelle has cast two actors who aren't necessarily known for their singing. I certainly knew of their acting but never knew they could hold a tune or play an instrument. Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a jazz pianist who dreams of opening his own jazz club. Emma Stone is Mia, an aspiring actress with big Hollywood dreams. Both performances are charming and engaging and their chemistry really comes through not just in their dramatic work but in their singing and dancing, as well. I openly admit I'm no expert when it comes to breaking down a person's singing but I liked what I heard and it was pretty damn good. The pair effectively portray the drama, vocalize the songs and play up the comedy. No Hollywood musical would be complete without its fair share of witty banter and while contemporary the banter is here in spades.
The story about two dreamers meeting and falling in love is an oft told tale and has likely been the backbone for many a musical. Chazelle has chosen to break his film up into seasons, winter, spring, summer and fail. Which in itself is rather amusing since Los Angeles seems to only have two seasons, spring and summer. Chazelle, along with cinematographer Linus Sandgren, provide viewers with plenty to look at and keeps them engaged from beginning to end. The film not only serves as a love letter to Hollywood musicals but as an homage to the city of Los Angeles. Locals or anyone who has visited this sprawling city will likely appreciate the numerous references.
La La Land doesn't rewrite the book of Hollywood musicals but it at least brings them back into the conversation. Chazelle's film shows that, when done right, original movie musicals can be a viable and worthwhile endeavor. The film is a fun and entertaining two hours that could very well have you wanting to either go back and watch it again or head to the store and buy the soundtrack. It features solid dramatic and musical performances and many great numbers. If you're a fan of musicals you will certainly eat this one up and beg for seconds.