Making a movie musical is always a risky proposition. Throw in a desire to tell a modern story and you’re really pushing it. At least that’s what you think until about 3 minutes into La La Land.
The opening sequence is on a freeway in what is typical LA traffic. If there was ever a moment that could sustain a full song and dance number, gridlock is that place.
La La Land is a walk through the lives of two Mia (Emma Stone) the barista who’s also an ever-auditioning actress and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) the restaurant pianist – dreaming of opening his own jazz spot where he can play and spread his love of music to the masses. Their paths cross one fateful night but it’s not the meet-cute you’ve been trained to expect. Sebastian’s more than a little full of himself and completely wrapped up in his own problems.
When they meet again, Mia is more than a bit gleeful to see he’s been humbled by circumstances and employment opportunities. This is where the musical elements kick in full throttle. You’ll get full scale dance numbers with freeze frame mannequin moments, dream sequences and plenty of original songs. All of this singing and dancing leads you through the life, times and love affair of Mia and Sebastian. It highlights those benchmark moments in a relationship and the steps people take towards their dreams that can often end up being steps away from their partner.
La La Land isn’t all laughs and sunshine but it is a spectacle of color and movie magic playing out all throughout L.A.. The setting choices lending it more than a touch of authenticity (while standing as a not so silent comment on the loss of more than a few iconic places to gentrification) and feeling of movement.
Damien Chazelle wrote a screenplay and songbook meant to be shot in modern Los Angeles. It’s a sharp, witty, poignant, sometimes flat out funny story told with music. It’s the vivid introduction of the movie musical into a modern setting Hollywood’s been waiting for. It’s not going to hit all the bells and whistles – it’s a very, very, white world they’re living in – for everyone but it’s certainly going to make many a musical lover more than pleased.
Side Note (why it’s doesn’t get a higher rating from me):
1) This movie doesn’t move fast. If you’re more of an up-tempo kind of musical lover, there will be parts where this movie drags for you.
2) The love story makes a few abrupt jumps that could’ve used some depth and would’ve pulled you in further and connected you to the main characters (they had the time).
3) I can think of a few – but I won’t name them – folks who could’ve brought more depth to Mia and Sebastian although I doubt there could’ve been a better-looking paring for this technicolor flick.
4) The happily-ever-after isn’t the expected turn and plenty won’t like it but I found the bittersweet ending to be suitable.
5) There is not enough of John Legend or of John Legend singing.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
LA LA LAND tells the story of Mia, an aspiring actress, and Sebastian, a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts. Set in modern day Los Angeles, this original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing your dreams.
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Finn Wittrock, Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno, Jessica Rothe, Tom Everett Scott, Josh Pence
Screenplay by: Damien Chazelle
Directed by: Damien Chazelle