La La Land (2016)
dir. Damien Chazelle
written by: Damien Chazelle
starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend
4 out of 4 stars
When it was announced Whiplash writer-director Damien Chazelle was mounting a musical set in modern day Los Angeles, filled with original song and score, my heart overflowed. It’s been far too long since the musical genre has had an ample boost. Les Miserables was overbearing for many, and Into the Woods felt a bit fake with Disney’s mits on it. From a director with Chazelle’s force and grit, an original production led to ample anticipation as the previews and screenshots debuted. The result was pure magic.
La La Land’s strength lies in its effortless beauty. The timeless story of a struggling jazz musician who has become smitten with an aspiring actress has been done repeatedly throughout the history of musicals. Based in the modern age, we find the millennials Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) attempting to find their dream career in Christmas carol monotony and mid-sentence audition interruptions while handling a budding romance and some spectacular choreography, courtesy of choreographer Mandy Moore (So You Think You Can Dance) as captured in glorious motion by cinematographer Linus Sandgren (American Hustle). Every step of the film is well-managed, colorful joy that begs to be rewatched before the first run even ends.
Ryan Gosling is a stellar leading man; I’m not sure if he’s been a longtime piano player, but his performance on and off the stage shines leading man. Emma Stone is the maestro stealing the show. Her every face is gold, from raucous dancing while Sebastian plays to the striking performance of “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”, Stone gives the performance of her career as the vibrant but questioning Mia. Watching her boyfriend find success while she struggles to find her plot, Stone embodies the dreamer spirit of her generation while sashaying through her uncertainty.
With the superb score and songs by Justin Hurwitz, mixed with muraled, fantastical sets and lively, solid costumes (Mary Zophres, True Grit, Interstellar), Chazelle formulates a fast paced wonderland breaking his star struck lovers from the monotony of daily life to find the charm and excitement (and escapism) of the musical realm. Cut with flare by Tom Cross, ready for his repeat Oscar win after Whiplash, the film never stops to breathe, much like life with a budding career. Expect to see this movie dominate at the Oscars, much like it has with so many precursors. This is easily the most enjoyable filmgoing experience in years.