LA LA LAND
Starring: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling
Written and Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) continues to be a cutting edge and driving force in his very young writing and directing career. His newest endeavor is a musical, “La La Land,” starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. The two are young and struggling talents in Hollywood, trying to make a go of it while they dance and sing their way into each others hearts and arms. It’s a throw-back to a romantic and imaginative time in Hollywood yet set in the current times. It’s not Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but the story and creativity far out-weigh what the stars lack in singing and dancing prowess.
There’s no denying what this film is going to be as we immediately get a taste of beautifully choreographed dancing in rush hour traffic in L.A. Mia (Stone) is a struggling actress and Sebastian (Gosling) is a talented jazz pianist not willing to sell-out and compromise. Mia dreams and dances her way through everyday life as she is repeatedly rejected in auditions. Sebastian wants nothing more than to own, once again, his own jazz club. When the two finally connect, they lift one another as they reach for the stars. You can’t help but adore this young couple as they completely mesmerize you, transfixing your gaze upon their interactions, struggles, and romance.
“La La Land” takes a chance by inviting the audience along for this remarkable journey. While the singing and the dancing from our leads aren’t up to Astaire and Rogers’ standards, the rest of the cast acrobatically sweeps you off your feet. Gosling and Stone, their third love story together (“Crazy, Stupid, Love,” and “Gangster Squad”), have a chemistry that is palpable in this sweet film. Stone embodies the persona of the “girl next door,” with her big green eyes and freckled face as she continually tries to make it in this unforgiving world of movie making. She readily captures your attention and your heart as you root for her to succeed. Gosling is the more refined, moody, and temperamental leading man who perfectly balances Stone’s positivity and can-do attitude. The two are blissful harmony when they’re together. And what they lack in singing and dancing skills, they easily make up for with their on-screen presence. And the hands you see playing the piano are reportedly Gosling’s. Impressive.
In true Chazelle style, he’s daring in combining this old-fashioned concept with a bold story. Is it a new story? Not really, but it’s told quite differently making it a uniquely symphonic blend of filmmaking. There is definitely predictability, but it’s in a very charming way. And Chazelle knows how to reel in an audience and then blow them away with unpredictability. This skillful amalgam of old and new with seemingly far-fetched fantastical scenes somehow works with Chazelle at the helm. Chazelle also has a keen attention to detail which elevates the quality of this stunning film. It’s shot using a 1950’s style, wide screen CinemaScope which is why we feel an even deeper connection with a by-gone era of musicals. And to say it’s in technicolor is putting it mildly. It’s truly a visually striking and beautiful film.
“La La Land” is a wonderful romp back into the dreamy time of Old Hollywood that will make you smile the entire time. The story is simply stellar with brilliant cinematography augmenting the film. While Stone and Gosling are a great on-screen presence, one can’t help but wonder if two other actors who’s strengths are dancing and singing would have been even more magical. We will never know. But we do know that making a musical is a bold and daring move and Chazelle has a winner…again!