La La Land is a romantic comedy musical written and directed by Damien Chazelle. The film is set in Los Angeles and follows aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone), who serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions, and dedicated jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who plays in dingy bars in order to scrape by. The two meet and fall in love, but, as success mounts, the dreams they worked so hard to maintain threaten to rip them apart.
This past fall, I wrote about how much I was looking forward to seeing La La Land, and my main motivation was the director, Damien Chazelle. In 2014, Chazelle burst onto the scene with his Best Picture-nominated Whiplash, which ranked as my No. 1 film from the entire year. On the strength of my love for Whiplash, I could not wait for La La Land—and thanks to Chazelle’s genius, it did not disappoint. La La Land is incredibly romantic and charming, and, just like in Whiplash, Chazelle’s love for jazz reigns supreme.
With a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations, Chazelle has cemented himself as one of the best filmmakers in the game. Although I did not find this film as enthralling and emotionally disarming as Whiplash, I still found La La Land to be a delightfully astounding piece of cinema. I mean, Chazelle shut down a major Los Angeles highway in the heat of summer in order to shoot one of the most memorable opening scenes of all time—it takes a certain degree of brilliance to make that happen and Chazelle nailed it!
One of the critiques I have heard regarding La La Land is that although it is a wonderful film, it does not pack the same timeless punch as Hollywood’s most momentous musicals, such as Singin’ in the Rain. Although I somewhat concur in that observation, it does not make La La Land any less amazing. As a modern musical, it is definitely one of the best I have seen—the characters are charismatic, the story is enchanting, and the music is memorable. In fact, after seeing this film in the theater, I listened to the soundtrack over and over and over again. The two standout tracks are the songs up for Best Original Song: “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).” These two numbers are definitely the best, but I also greatly enjoyed “Mia & Sebastian’s Theme,” which, as you could expect, is the soundtrack to the two main characters’ love; it is a beautiful piano instrumental that evokes the utmost emotional connection to Sebastian and Mia’s relationship. Needless to say, Justin Hurwitz’s composition makes this film that much more amazing.
The blend of Chazelle’s storytelling genius and Hurwitz’s melodic prowess would not be complete without performers to bring their vision to life—thankfully, the filmmakers had the ever-charming Ryan Gosling and the hilarious girl-next-door Emma Stone at their disposal. I loved these two actors together in Crazy, Stupid, Love (their chemistry was also undeniable in Gangster Squad, although that movie sucked), and in La La Land, they again just flat out fit together. Both Sebastian and Mia are dreamers in their own ways—Sebastian, a devoted but struggling jazz musician, dreams of owning his own club dedicated to this nostalgic genre, and Mia, a devoted but struggling actress, dreams of making it big in Hollywood. Life continues throwing the two curves, but they always hold tight to their desires, which ultimately places their devotion to each other in doubt. Both Gosling and Stone portray the intricacies of their characters with magnetism, and you cannot help but become emotionally invested in their relationship. Although the two flourish as both singers and dancers in all of the film’s traditional musical scenes (such as the catchy number “A Lovely Night,” set amongst the Los Angeles night sky), one of my favorite scenes was when Mia requested a performance of A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran” by an 80s cover band at a Hollywood pool party—that band just so happened to feature the true-to-his-art Sebastian playing synthesizer. The scene gave me more than enough laughs to last the entire movie, and it was truly representative of Gosling and Stone’s dynamic on-screen chemistry. La La Land is rated PG-13 for some language.
La La Land trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pdqf4P9MB8
Academy Award nominations for La La Land:
Best Picture (Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, and Marc Platt)
Best Director (Damien Chazelle)
Best Actor in a Leading Role (Ryan Gosling)
Best Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Stone)
Best Original Screenplay (Damien Chazelle)
Best Original Score (Justin Hurwitz)
Best Original Song for “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” (Music by Justin Hurwitz, Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)
Best Original Song for “City of Stars” (Music by Justin Hurwitz, Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)
Best Sound Editing (Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan)
Best Sound Mixing (Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee, and Steve A. Morrow)
Best Production Design (David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco)
Best Cinematography (Linus Sandgren)
Best Costume Design (Mary Zophres)
Best Film Editing (Tom Cross)
Previous movies on the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2016:
- Nocturnal Animals