La La Land is one of the best films of the yearLa La Land is one of the best films of the year:- It's a big, brash and beautiful musical drama, solidifying the talents of its three young stars — actor Ryan Gosling, actress Emma Stone and writer/director Damien Chazelle.
Hot off 2014's hit "Whiplash," Chazelle continues down the path of masterfully edited musical set pieces. Like his directorial debut, "La La Land" whirls, twirls and has a dizzying effect. "La La Land" has similar subject matter, too.
Like "Whiplash," "La La Land" focuses on characters who have huge dreams. Also like "Whiplash," these central characters in "La La Land" are rooted in old-school mechanisms while the world around them constantly and annoyingly beeps and tweets.
Gosling plays a down-on-his-luck jazz pianist named Sebastian. He wants to live in a world where everyone shares his appreciation for Louis Armstrong and the forefathers of jazz. Stone plays the aspiring actress/playwright Mia.
They both come to Los Angeles to find success. Sebastian discovers that the once iconic jazz bar is a hybrid samba and tapas bar. He gets fired for exploding into free jazz during a Christmas-time set at a restaurant. Mia is a barista on a studio lot. Her auditions are constantly interrupted, or worse, end abruptly after a few lines.
What follows is a story of chance encounters and falling in love not only with a person but also with a passion. It's not super original, but the way it's presented is a breath of fresh air.
When it comes to film, you're reading the words of one of the biggest cynics around. It's bad enough that we have at least four superhero films a year, then the franchise tent poles each season, but now a musical could be leading the Oscar race? I was skeptical, even during the first number in "La La Land," where traffic stops so people can sing, dance and tell the audience why they moved to Los Angeles.
But like its setting, "La La Land" is intoxicating. Give credit to the dynamic score and songs from Justin Hurwitz. The songs are odes to Broadway gold that only add to the story. A musical in present day might seem naive, but "La La Land" takes time and space to develop its characters. There is no rush from song to song. You get wrapped up in the love just like Sebastian and Mia.
However, with any dreamer, the other side of the story is blunt reality, and "La La Land" doesn't look the other way. Mixed in with the dazzling choreography and songs are bits of humor and conflict. But the film doesn't stray from Sebastian and Mia's story, where Gosling and Stone give powerhouse performances.
Gosling, who shined his physical humor muscles in this summer's underrated "The Nice Guys," once again shows how he could be the next Paul Newman. He has an effortless, natural charm, but can turn on the drama with the snap of a finger. Stone, who nearly stole "Birdman" from Edward Norton and Michael Keaton, proves over and over again in "La La Land" how great she is, especially in the audition scenes.
Working from his script, Chazelle takes risks of his own. He has mentioned in interviews how filming "La La Land" was his dream. Once again, Chazelle has managed to fuse stubborn characters with something entirely out of left field, especially when you consider the mainstream movie market. It's an ambitious film, and one that could have gone off the rails at any point. Even in the final 20 minutes, Chazelle takes a big swing, retelling the entire film, a dream sequence within an already dream-like movie.