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La La Land (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 20, 2020

La La Land

La La Land

LA LA LAND (2016)

Starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock, Meagan Fay, Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno, Jessica Rothe, Tom Everett Scott, Josh Pence, Valarie Ray Miller, Amiée Conn, Terry Walters, Thom Shelton, Cinda Adams, Claudine Claudio and Jason Fuchs.

Screenplay by Damien Chazelle.

Directed by Damien Chazelle.

Distributed by Lionsgate.  128 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Even before it was released to theaters, La La Land was getting huge buzz as the odds-on favorite to be a huge Oscar success.  After all, it’s a big, brassy, technicolor love letter to old-timey Hollywood and show business dazzle, the kind of film that makes the Academy drool.

So, before it is ushered to the podium as probable winner of Best Picture, perhaps we should ask this simple question: Is it the best picture?

Well, it is a very good picture.  I’d even go so far as to say it is very, very good.

But best?  No, probably not.

La La Land is a visually stunning Valentine to the old-school Hollywood musicals that came out of the MGM Studios.  It asks some intriguing questions about art vs. commerce, love vs. career.  It’s got dazzling cinematography, sharp camera work and some lovable and hip stars.

Too bad about the music, though.

Not that the music of La La Land is bad, per se.  It’s just not particularly memorable.

Honestly, I think that may have even been somewhat intended.  It is the story about a stubbornly non-commercial jazz pianist who refuses to sell out his artistic integrity and play the music that “people want to hear,” so it makes a certain amount of sense that the score is not made up of audience-pleasing toe-tappers and show-stoppers.

That pianist is played by Ryan Gosling.  His romantic interest – well other than jazz music – is a struggling actress played by Emma Stone.  He wants to open a cool jazz club.  She wants to make movies.  They sing and dance their way through an oddly old-fashioned modern Hollywood in search of their dreams.  (For the record, Stone has much more of the effortless charm and panache to pull off the musical role, Gosling’s singing and dancing are both a bit suspect.)

However, the film asks, is love a suitable replacement for artistic fulfillment?  Can you ever have both?  Or will one suffer for the other?

They are some deep questions for a film that begins with a song-and-dance number about being stuck in traffic on the 405.  (This morphs into perhaps the weirdest “meet cute” in Hollywood history: Our couple falls in love after he gives her the finger while passing her in the gridlock.)

La La Land wears its gravitas well.  The fact that it won’t take the easy way out or commit to doing the cheap happy ending gives the film a resonant bittersweet quality that only amplifies the film’s moody charm.

And did I mention that the film just looks stunning?  Well it is worthy of repeating, because visually everything about La La Land is great; from the sets, to the costumes, to the imagery, to the scenery.  Even the stars are pretty stunning looking.

The rest of the supporting cast is also very good.  Particularly nice is a likable screen debut by R&B singer John Legend, who shows charisma for miles, even though he is essentially playing himself.  However, it’s just a sin for writer/director Chazelle to cast JK Simmons, who won an Oscar for their last collaboration in Whiplash, in the role of a jazz club owner and give him so little to do.

However, is it the best movie of the year?  Again, I don’t think so.

La La Land is a technical triumph and a sweet love story.  It has attitude for miles and obviously truly loves the old-school musicals that it is celebrating.  For that alone, it is well worth seeing.

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: January 20, 2017.

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