Friday, February 10, 2017

La La Land Movie Review

La La Land (2016)
Buy La La Land on Amazon Video
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWit, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock, John Legend
Rated: PG-13

My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous movie reviews!

In Los Angeles, a jazz pianist and aspiring actress fall for each other.

The first scene sets the tone. This is a musical in modern day L.A. The musical sequences are surreal, hearkening to the glamour of the city. The parties are fabulous, but when they end, it's a contrast with reality when we see Mia (Emma Stone) walking down grimy streets. These are just musical sequences, they're fantasies enacted on screen.
It's a story about want-to-be entertainers trying to catch a break. Mia and Seb (Ryan Gosling) happen to fall in love, though they don't have a happy Hollywood ending.
It's a well written and plotted story that give the actors ample room to act, but it's the golden age musical stylings that set this apart. The score is simple but memorable. While I'm not a fan of musicals, these sequences could just as well be called dreams.
Watch it.

The first scene is an impeccably choreographed dance on the highway with dozens of extras jumping on and out of cars with a sweeping camera that navigates up, down, and between. It's a production feat, as are all of the musical sequences. The dance transitions to a Toyota Prius with Mia memorizing lines for an audition. Seb happens to be behind her, annoyed that she isn't paying attention to traffic.

The title screen is styled like the older movies with roman numerals and copyright information. La La Land sounds like a dream world, and that's what L.A. is. Will Mia and Seb be the few that make it, or like most others that try without finding success?

It's indulgent, but not in a bad way. This is a film that can only be made after you've created the awards juggernaut Whiplash (2014). You have to have created something really great for people to take a risk on a film like this. It's Chazelle's previous work that makes this movie possible. After Whiplash, the press was eager to see what he would make next. This just isn't something an unknown writer/director can make his/her first time out. It's too big of a risk. I read in an interview Chazelle had  been kicking this idea around before he made Whiplash.
It's kind of like The Artist (2011). That's a movie that calls to the silent film era that most thought would fail, yet it somehow found an audience.

This is a smart script with more than a few surreal musical sequences, taking the musical a step further to fit into a modern genre. It constantly plays off the glamour of Hollywood versus the reality. There are flashy sequences that make L.A. look bright and cheerful, then there are the dark streets and empty theaters. What I like about the musical segments is that they are inspirational. It's how Mia wants to see the parties, it's how Mia and Seb want to see their first night out.

Mia is a Hollywood hopeful, working as a barista on the Warner Bros. lot and going to auditions, but all the girls at the auditions are baristas. It was a neat touch when we see they're all dressed in black pants and a white shirt, just like Mia who came straight from her job. How do you find an actress in Hollywood? Go to Starbucks.

Emma Stone does a great job, especially in her first audition. Part of that is the script. The dialog is great and gives both actors, her especially, a chance to act.

Seb is a jazz musician, a character displaced from time. His wardrobe and love of jazz don't fit a modern setting. Through a chance encounter he and Mia meet. He wants to start a jazz club and she wants to be an actress, but both dreams seem like long shots. How long do you chase the dream?

Seb pushes Mia to write her own role while she pushes him to start his club. When he gets a great job as the pianist in a popular band he puts the club on hold. It's a solid job that lets him play music and pay the bills. It's not his dream, but it's close.

The script is full of subtlety. In the band photo shoot Seb is unrecognizable in a hat and glasses. No one cares about the pianist, especially with John Legend playing the front man. In another scene, most of the party goers drive a Toyota Prius. Of course they do, it's L.A.
The movie is broken into seasons, which allows us to transition from their first few interactions to a full fledged relationship without having to see it on screen.

The last season skips five years into the future. We're in the same coffee shop, mirroring Mia's first scene in the movie, but now Mia is the famous actress that nabs everyone's attention.
Seb did start his club. Their successes are intricately linked even if they didn't stay together.

This is a great movie because you don't see something like this often. The musical segments are well done,  relying on smooth lighting transitions, wire work, and a free-flowing floating camera.
It is a risk, but a movie about Hollywood often offers a high reward. La La Land nabbed many Oscar award nominations.

The musical segments tap into the dream like quality of Hollywood, transitioning from whats happening to what the characters want to happen. They want to put themselves into a happily ever after Hollywood story. That's what makes movies great. We can escape ourselves and our lives and live a dream. La La Land explores both sides.

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