Movie Review: La La Land
PG-13 | 128 min
Director: Damien Chazelle
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt
by Jason Koenigsberg
The Movie: La La Land. It’s mission: To win Academy Awards while simultaneously procuring millennials interest in Golden Age Hollywood musicals. Is it successful? To be determined. However, in the meantime you might as well sit back and enjoy being sucked into La La Land, a highly enjoyable and romantic getaway. Yes, it is superfluous, derivative fluff, but it is the best kind of fluff you are likely to see from a major studio and it casts a powerful and inescapable spell over the audience that even the most ardent musical haters will not be able to resist.
The opening shot displays the old fashioned Cinemascope logo and then fades into a modern day traffic jam in Los Angeles. Early on writer/director Damien Chazelle tries to bring the classic movie feel to the twenty-first century. Characters stuck in their cars on the freeway start to get up out of their vehicles and sing and dance. The choreography in the opening song and dance is impressive but even more extraordinary was the camera maneuvering during this scene. The opening shot is a long one and does not contain a single cut during the elaborate musical number. It is as if the director is showing off how expertly he can craft an opening scene in one take. Even after the song is over, the title flashes as the characters get back into their cars, the camera still does not cut but pans down to Ryan Gosling and then over to Emma Stone in two separate cars stuck in traffic. Only then does the camera finally cut.
This is Damien Chazelle’s follow up to his critically acclaimed debut Whiplash (2014) which took home Academy Awards for Best Editing and Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons. The good news is that there is no sophomore slump for his second feature film. La La Land is very different in tone to Whiplash, but Mr. Chazelle does carry over several themes and concepts from his previous film as he builds his reputation as a cinematic auteur. He makes it apparent that he obviously loves jazz music and jazz culture since both films illustrate a great amount of passion for jazz and its history and influence. Both films also deal with love and possibly giving up romantic love in exchange for a passion for music or the arts and how that could reap benefits and turn into a successful career but also create a sense of longing and loss for the loving relationship that was sacrificed.
La La Land is an expertly crafted film on many levels. It has terrific cinematography with lighting that knows when to emphasize the vibrant colors on screen and when to use shadows and darkness to enhance our emotions. The costumes and set design are also masterful and stand out when they need to but also seamlessly blend in and compliment our actors and the love story they are telling.
The acting in La La Land has to be discussed. Ryan Gosling is good as always, however Emma Stone is great. She is irresistible and it is very hard to imagine another actress playing this part. She has been good in every role, sometimes she is miscast and that is not her fault, but she has never felt more perfectly suited and been more engaging onscreen than she has in La La Land. J.K. Simmons appears in a small role but it is highly doubtful there will be any Oscar buzz for him this time. Gosling and Stone deserve award recognition and are the main reasons that La La Land is a success. The two stars have great chemistry on screen and make a story about a struggling artist and aspiring actress that we have all seen a myriad of times so undeniably engrossing.
La La Land is a nice love story, but it is fluff nonetheless. However, because of the actors and expert direction La La Land is not just good looking fluff, but it is one of the best examples of how great passion behind the camera can make a mundane and derivative love letter to classic movie musicals and jazz enthralling without ever feeling unique.