Movie Review: LA LA LAND

LA LA LAND is pure movie magic – a throwback of sorts – a traditional musical set in contemporary Los Angeles, which manages to hearken to classic Hollywood with its retro glamor and style, large and lavish dance numbers, soulful songs and an enchanting love story.

Written and directed by Academy Award nominee Damien Chazelle, LA LA LAND tells the story of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), 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. [Rotten Tomatoes]

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The film follows Mia and Sebastian’s relationship – from a meet-cute that was more of a meet-hate, a romance that blossomed and grew with their respective dreams, the pull of stardom and the sacrifices to be made in achieving their dreams.

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Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) has managed to fit so much vibrancy and energy into this film. He deftly merges the choreography, music and lyrics seamlessly with the story and performances of his actors. There’s so many moving parts to this film, written and directed by Chazelle, brilliantly composed by Justin Hurwitz (the lyrics are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), and skillfully choreographed by Mandy Moore – yet it plays out so gracefully on screen.

Chazelle’s vision for this film is a magical feat of imagination. There are so many magnificently staged moments, some where the characters seem to be literally dancing on air – I was completely enthralled by how gorgeous this film looked.

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Much of the charisma and wit of the film is owed to its stars – Gosling and Stone have amazing chemistry together. The dazzling duo gives it their all.

Ryan Gosling is sure to have many a film-goer swooning (he goes full “Hey Girl” in this one) with his raspy jazz tunes and quiet intensity. Emma Stone is a true star – she gives a fantastic performance, one that is delicate and delightful. She’s sure to earn an Oscar nomination for her glorious work in LA LA LAND.

Gosling and Stone are joined by a small but effective supporting cast, including John Legend, Rosemarie Dewitt and J.K. Simmons.

I’m a huge fan of musicals in general, but it’s easy for anyone to be captivated by such an earnest and charming film. The film manages to capture the nostalgia of old Hollywood, throwing nods to Hollywood classics and even going so far as to include a swing from a lamppost (Singin’ in the Rain), but remains very self-aware:

Mia [speaking about her one-woman play]:  “It feels really nostalgic to me.”

Sebastian: “That’s the point,”

Mia: “Are people going to like it?”

Sebastian [grins]: “Fuck ’em.” 

LA LA LAND is unabashedly classic Hollywood musical at its heart, albeit one with a contemporary conscience. It strays away from its bright and happy opening to a more subdued and intimate exploration of a relationship.

I really loved this film. At several points in the film, the conclusion of a song or dance number would erupt in a standing ovation from the audience – the opening number was a knockout and the finale was a gloriously staged emotional powerhouse.

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LA LA LAND is an absolute joy to watch, exploding with life and vibrancy. It manages to capture some of that classic Hollywood movie magic….

*SINGS* *It’s got rhythm, It’s got music, It’s got “Ry”, man… who could ask for anything more?*

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