Movie Review: Going Ga Ga for La La Land

La La Land (2016) Mini Movie Review
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt

Old hollywood gets a fresh makeover complete with songs, dance and good old fashion dreamy romance.

Sounds like something I’d be skeptical of. I’m generally not into musicals or romantic films. What keeps me open minded is that it’s the same director behind Whiplash (2014), one of my favorite films from that year, and the very talented Emma Stone.

Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress/barista who is charmed by an unfriendly, under employed jazz pianist named Sebastian (Ryan Gosling).  The story arc between the two is quite familiar which is a nostalgic nod to traditional romantic films.

The setting for their relationship is also very important. Los Angeles has long been a place where people go to realize their dreams or fulfill their aspirations. And even before the age of Hollywood, the California Gold Rush saw an influx of people hoping to strike it rich in the west. Within this framework, La La Land is most absorbing when playing between the realm of dreams and realities. 

I didn’t completely buy into the romance between Mia and Sebastian. It will be interesting to see if a decade from now whether people will think of Mia and Sebastian as a memorable, cinematic power couple. I doubt it. It’s by design this likable pair isn’t a full blown epic romance. There is a subtle tension between the two as they help each other pursue their individual dreams.

The aspect about the romance I did like is when the story teases that the two main characters are about to get close and then playfully pulls back. I liked the final act a lot which ties into the nature of their relationship and what they mean to each other.

Emma Stone has worked with Ryan Gosling before. Their chemistry is not just in the dialogue scenes but also in the dance choreography and songs.  Stone is sensational and captivating. This is a great role for her to show off all the tools in her acting toolbox. Stone outshines Gosling’s solid yet unspectacular performance, although I do like that his singing isn’t overpolished.

Aside from Stone’s performance, the most memorable part of La La Land is the direction and cinematography. A lot of people talk about the musical aspect, but even if you put La La Land on mute, visually there is so much to be in awe of.  

Damien Chazelle is obviously well studied in old Hollywood films without the direction ever coming across as stale. Certain camera shots calls attention to itself is in a good way. I couldn’t help notice the clever, visually striking and technical direction. It can go from a musical stage play to motion picture in the same scene. What also caught my eye is the color palette in a moonlit walk and stunning set designs which are sometimes briefly used for a few moments. 

Perhaps if I was into old musicals and classic romance, I’d be all over La La Land like everybody else. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an expertly directed piece of cinematic art. I don’t begrudge all the Oscars it was nominated for and won. I just didn’t fall head over heels in love with La La Land. 

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