La La Land Review: Musical of the Decade for Film Fans All Around

“City of Stars. Are you shining just for me? City of Stars. There’s so much that I can’t see”

Musicals don’t get any better than this. It seems like they don’t make movies like this anymore. Which makes me wonder, what if life were like a musical upon watching this? Anybody can be singing without a care in the world and falling in love would be truly amazing, wouldn’t it? Writer-director Damien Chazelle embraced his love for music when his 2014 hit, Whiplash (my second favorite movie of that year), and it was a truly a genius movie. Now, he takes it a step forward in one of the most anticipated films this season, La La Land.

As this is a modern-day musical, this follows Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling), who’s a talented jazz pianist who wants to own his own jazz club to keep up with his passion for the genre and Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress trying to get a gig but nothing has come to her. The both of them have fallen for each other in the style of singing and dancing in Los Angeles while also trying to achieve their dreams with the things they love.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land (2016)

For me, musicals can be a hit and miss sometimes. It can be ranging from entertaining and enjoyable to terrible and annoying. Although I do enjoy live-action musicals like Dreamgirls, Grease, Les Miserables, etc. But if it’s directed by someone whose last film was an Oscar-winning movie about a student/teacher rivalry, nothing can go wrong here. Not only is La La Land an outstanding film, but it might also be the coolest musical to ever come out with the elements of being a musical, a romance, and a drama all swirling together, makes a spectacular feast of enjoyment. It’s like falling in love with someone.

Gosling and Stone have always had the perfect on-screen chemistry with each other. Until now, they are now becoming a fantastic on-screen couple. They worked great in Crazy Stupid Love, and they worked so well in this. Let’s all forget about Gangster Squad. There’s literally nobody else that could easily replace them. They’re perfect. As the film progresses, it’s very understandable about their dreams and aspirations in life and getting the chance of not giving up on all hope. The romance didn’t feel forced upon us as it felt real, to be honest.

Before 2011, Gosling never spoke out to me as I always thought he was just the pretty Canadian from The Notebook. But after Crazy, Stupid, Love and even Drive, he has proven to be one of the best actors in Hollywood. Plus, an impressive year with this is and the highly overlooked The Nice Guys. As Sebastian, he’s a deeply connected character who just doesn’t want to be playing the annual holiday songs every night, he wants to go out there and make his dreams of becoming a huge person in jazz come true. He even has this monologue with Mia about why Jazz is important to him. His character makes Jazz sound exciting.

And Stone is an actress I’ve always loved, and she has given probably the best performance of her career since Birdman. As Mia, it’s so clear that anybody can relate to her as she’s auditioning for everything and won’t quit giving up too quickly. She looks very passionate in taking on a role that anybody can pull off, but only Stone is the perfect woman that can play Mia. It’s the desire she puts into herself to follow her dreams.

Everything technical wise is pristine to the first degree. The sweeping cinematography was gorgeous as it was dazzling with every frame it can carry. The editing was fast-paced, and the sound of it all was flawless. From the opening song sequence to the final scene, this was a transfixed movie of the ages. Literally, the first scene starts off with a bang with such an elaborate musical number that absolutely feels fresh.

The music is some of the best original music I’ve listened to since Sing Street to which anyone will fall in love with instantly. Even in most musicals, the way somebody would transition into a song is always random, making it seem odd and out of place. In this, it’s become so smooth, especially as it begins. The best songs out of this were “City of Stars”, “Start a Fire” by John Legend, who was also very good in this with his incredible voice, “Audition”, “A Lovely Night”, etc. along with several great hits. Not just the music, the dance scenes are very well choreographed. Just the opening scene alone was so much fun. The best example of great music and perfect choreography involves Sebastian and Mia singing and dancing in front of the L.A. sunset. Incredible and impressive. So great job to the composer, Justin Hurwitz and songwriters, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Chazelle has a passion for music and it’s really shown throughout this about how much he puts the efforts into constructing this musical that doesn’t fall flat in any way. It’s clear that some of the most classic musicals influenced and inspired this like Singin’ in the Rain, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and The Young Girls of Rochefort. It’s essentially a love letter to those musicals and the city in general, as it feels different from the most recent movies that come out now. It’s also paying respectful homage to those classic films. For someone who wouldn’t really know the old school musicals, I can see that Chazelle influenced a lot of them in here. And the way they show Hollywood, it’s so different from what California been shown in other movies before.

Along with the direction, his original screenplay was beautiful with the talk of music and how Gosling’s character loves jazz. It made me appreciate Jazz even more. It’s pretty much like a combination of Singin’ in the Rain meets (500) Days of Summer as it explores the musical elements and the romance that blossoms in between. The most important factor that really contributes to this is that this is a love letter to classic Hollywood musicals done right, and it’s also believing in your dreams.

Speaking of dreams, that’s the most important theme of La La Land by making anything you want to achieve in life and make it happen in reality. The sense of passion that shows forth to somebody who wants to become somebody and succeed in life translated perfectly.  The way it concludes was such a thought-provoking way to end it and it might shed a few tears along the way. Is it better than the ending than Whiplash? It’s possible it could be. As the Oscars are coming up, this is absolutely the movie to look out for. This is wonderful all around.

If there’s one problem, maybe it’s briefly long, but that’s nitpicking at this point.

At these ages, sometimes we need not rely on superhero movies or the gigantic blockbusters. Even though they’re great, we shouldn’t forget how musicals have shaped entertainment for ages. Without the late great Debbie Reynolds, La La Land probably wouldn’t even exist today by any chance. It’s for anyone who’s a film lover, music lover, or just loves art in general. It felt like you’re in a dream escaping reality.

As it ends, you only want to go back into this world. When someone asks me, “What movie makes you want to fall in love?”, I’ll respond with Before Sunrise, and now this. This will become one of those movies that make you happy when thinking about it. Not to the point of wanting to sing on top of your car on the L.A. highway, but you just feel so good to be alive after watching it. Only at 31, Chazelle is really a talented director that can just do about anything right now.

La La Land is the most extraordinary musical in years. Fantastic music, great performances from Gosling and Stone, emotional, and the most absorbing writing/direction of the year.

Grade: A

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