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Dan's Review: "La La Land" a cinematic triumph; best of 2016

Dec 15, 2016 11:24PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land - © 2016 Lionsgate

La La Land (Lionsgate)

Rated PG-13 for some language.

Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, J. K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock, Tom Everett Scott, Meagen Fay, Damon Gupton Jason Fuchs, Jessica Rothe, Sonoya Mizuno, Callie Hernandez, Josh Pence, Anna Chazelle.

Written and Directed by Damien Chazelle.



They say they don’t make movies like they used to.  Today’s Hollywood seems to be driven by corporate formulas meant to take very little risk in order to keep the cash flowing. They also say that movie musicals are dead, and no one really appreciates them. Funny thing is, whenever a movie musical is released, they often do well and get raves (Hairspray, Moulin Rouge, Dreamgirls, Chicago, Les Miserables and several Disney animated musicals). There are plenty of talented songwriters and filmmakers out there dying to apply their skills, and musicals aren’t dead on Broadway, either. Perhaps the perception is clouded by so many other non-musical films being released on a weekly basis. La La Land is the latest musical produced directly to the screen, and it may be one of the best contemporary movie musicals we’ve seen in decades, drawing on classic films of the 1930s, 40s, 50s and early 60s.

Emma Stone plays Mia, a small-town native who seeks fame and fortune in southern California, bouncing from audition to audition while trying to earn a living as studio lot barista. Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a jazz musician trying to make ends meet and save money for his own club. Their paths cross several times until they strike up a relationship that blossoms into love. Mia and Sebastian’s love story is told through several big song and dance production numbers. Sebastian is recruited by Keith (John Legend), an old band mate who wants him to play in his new rock/jazz/hip-hop/fusion band. As the band’s fame takes off, Mia works to write and produce her own one-woman play that she hopes will give her acting career a boost. Mia and Sebastian’s paths seem to be headed in opposite directions, taking its toll on their relationship. Just when Mia is about to give up on her dreams, Sebastian does everything he can to bring her back for one more try.

Flashing forward five years, we rediscover where Mia and Sebastian’s decisions take them, and we get a taste of how things might have been had they made other choices.

La La Land is the best film of the year, in my opinion, and here’s why. First and foremost, Justin Hurwitz’s musical score and songs are grand and beautiful, reflecting the perfect tone for a movie about dreams. Second are the outstanding performances from Stone and Gosling, who sing and dance as well as they act, which is nearly flawless. Third, there’s Damien Chazelle’s direction and vision of a throwback musical in modern setting; meshing perfectly and never clashing. Lastly, there’s Linus Sandgren’s inspired cinematography, melding grand production numbers into a modern southern California backdrop, with vibrant colors and novel camera work (especially a dance scene inside the Griffiths Observatory in which Stone and Gosling fly).

The most beautiful aspect of La La Land is the way the movie plays out like a traditional musical for three quarters of the film, and then the final act moves the audience to a higher level of understanding about the benefit of having dreams. It’s a wonderful thought to realize that most of us may not realize everything we dreamed of, but that those dreams often drive us be better people.

I can’t recommend La La Land enough.

La La Land Trailer