Movie Review: La La Land

Details: Stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. About two hours long.

I just came back from watching this film at Lincoln Center and there is a lot I feel towards this movie and a lot that should be said. I am listening to the soundtrack as I write this and getting choked up again.

The premise is this: Mia (played by Emma Stone) and Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling) are two aspiring artists. Mia aspires to be an actress and Sebastian a jazz musician. They meet and fall in love while chasing their dreams.

This is a musical through and through. I remember seeing a clip on YouTube where the director stated that the film was meant as a 1960’s era style musical in a modern setting. I think this is exactly right. If you don’t like musicals or romance, this film is not for you.

With that said, I loved this movie. I don’t want to go into spoilers and fortunately, there are aspects of this film which are very formulaic in terms of musicals and can be discussed. For instance, the opening number is your standard, big, flashy, tone-setting musical number that you’d expect in other musicals or Disney movies.

I found myself having a strange reaction to the first two musical numbers. It was jarring to me and I realized that it had been a good, long while since I’d seen such a flamboyant musical as this. I missed musicals like this. And while I did not love the first two songs or how they meshed with the plot, they reacquainted me with this genre and I thoroughly enjoyed each subsequent song and dance number.

The strongest parts of this film are easily the musical arrangements and the visual imagery. Bright colors are in vogue throughout this film and delight the eyes. There are many, many long shots throughout the film which lend authenticity to the performances and make you question just how far the choreographers and directors had to plan in order to get these shots. I advise you watch the opening number with an eye towards how many cuts are used. Answer: there are none. It was all shot in one shot. It was amazing. The main theme is wistfully threaded throughout all the plot points and songs in the film and really triggered my emotions each time I heard that melody.

The performances, at least dramatically, were great, especially the scenes between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Which leads us to the weakest part of the movie: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s singing and dancing ability. While watching this film, I had flashbacks to West Side Story and Singin’ In the Rain, and it was clear that, unlike the protagonists in those films, these two were actors first and singers and dancers second. There was something undoubtedly muted about their movements and songs. Emma has a decent voice and has a good song towards the end, but it’s clear that more octaves should have been included to add more feeling to that song. That would likely have pushed it outside her range unfortunately. Gosling’s singing sounds like Gosling’s talking, which wasn’t all that impressive. Gosling’s saving grace was that he tried to put some emotion into it, covering his lack of ability.

The dancing was generally great, but, again, there was something missing. I thought about the dancing that I’d seen from prior musicals and there is a clear difference in energy and movement between one who has trained in this style of dance all their lives versus someone who spent a few months in pre-production trying to get up to speed. This is simply my opinion. I imagine that a person who is not analyzing the film as closely as I was may have a different opinion and not even notice. In fact, a friend that I watched the film with liked that they were less talented in regards to singing and dancing. She said that it added authenticity to their performances.

Furthermore, I’m not sure casting no names with greater dancing, singing, and acting ability would have been a good idea despite my complaints. Star power is a real thing. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are familiar faces and have worked together on two prior movies. They have convincing chemistry on screen and in this film. I’m not sure this movie would have worked without that name recognition or that chemistry. I’d watched a clip on YouTube where the director comments that he casted the two because of their chemistry, that they were like a Bogart and a Bacall. After watching this film, I agree. This film centers on the relationship between these two and without Stone or Gosling or another pair of known actors with similar abilities, this film probably wouldn’t work. There would likely be a lot less people who would even watch it.

Score: 8/10 By the end of the film, I was choking back tears. A friend asked what I thought and it was all I could do to give a thumbs up. I applauded along with the audience I watched it with. It’s a great film done in a style that has not been seen in a while. Don’t listen to the soundtrack first. Don’t go in with too many predictions or expectations. Just walk in with an open mind and give it a watch. You’ll have a good time.

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