By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
For lovers of classic cinema who often utter the phrase, “They don’t make movies like that anymore,” writer/director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) has the film that will whet their beaks. Movie musicals have never completely disappeared; however, the modern ones that have opened in theaters rarely capture the spirit, the romance and the whimsical delight that classics like Singin’ In The Rain and Guys and Dolls did and continue to do with their new audiences. La La Land is the perfect cure for cinephiles longing for this brand of classic musical. Chazelle also adds just the just the right amount of realism to keep its narrative somewhat grounded without taking away from its beautiful, dreamlike moments.
Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) lives and works in Hollywood as a movie studio barista who dreams of becoming a successful actress one day. Regularly auditioning between her work shifts, Mia unfortunately has not yet successfully landed any respectable roles. Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling) also struggles to maintain a career as a pianist who desires to play only pure classic jazz like his idols. Sebastian dreams of opening a jazz club, but can barely scrape together money to pay his living expenses. When these two artists cross paths multiple times, it feels like fate is trying to tell them something. The more time they spend together, the more attracted they become to one another and they eventually get involved in a serious relationship. However, as they passionately pursue their individual aspirations, the challenges of their careers ultimately challenges their romance.
Damien Chazelle’s homage to classic Hollywood musicals is a beautifully luscious, and captivating production. The film has a timeless and simple story that, for sure, has been told many times and in slightly different forms, but it is a story that will always have relevance as long as people experience romance and heartbreak, and as long as people dream for true magic in their lives. La La Land certainly delivers that cinematic magic that the classics once did when they hit movie houses many years ago.
Chazelle, his production design team, costume department, cinematographer Linus Sandgren and editor Tom Cross have created an absolutely gorgeous masterpiece with a lovely mix of bright primary colors, neon, and sunshine to create such striking imagery that will keep audiences glued and enchanted. Music composer and songwriter Justin Hurwitz, who previously collaborated with Chazelle on Whiplash, once again amazes with his virtuosity in the jazz numbers which will leave audiences in awe, and song lyrics that will most definitely touch their hearts. The choreography by Mandy Moore (not the actress) will leave people dazzled as well.
In addition to the leads, the film’s cast includes Rosemarie DeWitt, JK Simmons, John Legend, Callie Hernandez, and a talented group of singers and dancers. The main focus of the film is the relationship between Mia and Sebastian, though, and both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling deliver extraordinary performances which drive the film. Both of these enormous talents prove themselves as singers and dancers in addition to the wonderful acting they have to offer here. They truly deserve the nominations and accolades that they are already receiving, as does the film.
The production, alone, should earn Chazelle and his crew multiple nominations and accolades in addition to the music and song awards. The movie, itself, certainly has a very strong chance of earning some best picture of the year honors. 2016 has been a crazy year in the real world with shocks, crazy surprises, and many tragic and sad losses. It has also been another year of wonderful and extraordinary cinema. Most of the selections have been well-executed exercises in realism, though. Chazelle offers a refreshingly different throwback to classic, escapist fantasy, but keeps it sensibly rooted in reality without being overly cynical. This movie is dedicated to all of the romantics and dreamers out there.