Winner of 7 Golden Globe Awards and nominated for 14 Academy Awards…..
I love a good musical. You take something already pretty fantastic—an exciting story unfolding on the screen—and then you add beautiful songs and gorgeous choreography to the mix. Are you kidding me? Yes please! Unfortunately, times have changed and the popularity of musicals has declined. Studios now produce edgier films for a more jaded audience who can’t fathom why a character would suddenly burst into song or bust out some fancy dance moves when the mood strikes. Lucky for us, director Damien Chazelle has pulled off an amazing feat by once again showing audiences how great musicals can be.
Our story begins in a snarl of Los Angeles traffic with an enormous song and dance routine where commuters exit their cars and perform the catchy song “Another Day of Sun” while jumping on cars and twirling around in an eye-popping single camera take. At the end of the song, the camera focuses on Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress who is distracted as she practices lines for an upcoming audition. An irritated Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) throws her a death stare as he angrily passes her car, and Mia flips him the bird. You know right away that something big is in store for these two. Their next encounter is equally awkward when Mia ends up accidentally walking in on musician Sebastian playing the piano at a nightclub. Although he’s instructed to play cheesy Christmas tunes, Sebastian can’t reign in his love of jazz and he instead plays a beautiful original piece that leaves Mia breathless. Sebastian is fired, and he angrily walks away while rebuffing Mia’s attempt at a compliment. She’s pretty miffed at this. The third meeting is the charm though as Mia seeks revenge on Sebastian when she spots him at a party. Sebastian is obviously embarrassed to be performing in an ‘80s cover band (especially given his hideous costume) but Mia makes it even worse by requesting a Flock of Seagulls song that is painful for Sebastian the serious musician to perform. The spark between the two is evident and confirmed as they leave the party and perform the beautiful song “A Lovely Night” while dancing before a brilliant sunset. Sigh!
The film is really a love letter to Hollywood—a place where dreamers go to make it big. Both Mia and Sebastian have lofty goals—she wants to leave her barista job to become a famous actress and he wants to play real jazz music and open his own club. While they motivate each other to be their best selves and pursue their dreams, the question remains if their love can survive the sacrifices they must each make on their difficult road to the top. Gosling and Stone have teamed up several times together on film (my favorite being the delightful Crazy, Stupid Love) and they are a terrific pairing. Stone effortlessly portrays Mia as an emotional open book. I believe I’ve already made my love of Ryan Gosling known (The Notebook being one of the best love stories EVER!) so I really can’t be objective about his performance other than to say that I love his smooth voice as he croons to his gal, I love how he glides around dancing through the streets of LA so assuredly and I love watching him fall in love with Mia. If you watched his Golden Globes acceptance speech for Best Actor in a musical or comedy for this film—you would have fallen in love with him too.
What really sets this film apart is that it really is two films in one. The beginning of the film is a frothy musical love story and the end is a more realistic tale of the struggles of following your heart whether it’s towards romance or success. When the credits rolled, my first reaction was “Huh…” and I really had to take some time to process what I had just seen. That being said, when I really took the time to think it through, it became a really satisfying and successful story. So come Oscar night, I’ll be cheering for La La Land to get some serious love from the Academy and here’s hoping its success will prompt more musical delights in our future!
La La Land
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Run Time: 2 hours 8 minutes