Most people I know have a love/hate relationship with Los Angeles; it’s crowded, it’s dirty, it’s full of liars, cheats, and fakes, traffic is almost unbearable, and don’t get me started on parking…but there’s a distinct charm to it that La La Land perfectly captures. There are so many scenes in La La Land that, upon first glance, have this dreamlike quality to everything. The songs and dance choreography transport you into this world where anything is possible, and everything has an ethereal glow to it, but if you look closer you can see graffiti on the side of a building, cracked streets riddled with potholes, and tons of dirty grime and decay. I feel like no other film has ever come close to capturing the beauty and the ugliness of Los Angeles simultaneously with the exception of 2014’s Nightcrawler.
After an exciting introductory song and dance number, we’re introduced to Sebastian and Mia, played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone respectively. Sebastian is a musician with a proclivity for old and pure jazz, while Mia is your standard actress trapped in the body of a coffee barista. The two play off each other wonderfully; their relationship has a rocky start, but in almost no time they’re inspiring one another to pursue their passions no matter what. I loved seeing these two discuss old films and music, it’s a perfect depiction of the excitement and fun you can have when you’re with someone who understands you, Of course, the film goes into cliché’ territory when their relationship starts getting rocky because of the inability to prioritize and compromise. When they’re on the proverbial rocks, I found myself wanting them to stay together because they perfectly fed one another’s creativity. It felt like they just need each other to survive the crushing rejections we’ve all faced in the entertainment industry. You want them to survive everything in the end, and that’s quite an accomplishment because normally in these types of movies I’m cynically hoping for a bleak ending; not this time though.
There are some comedic moments that had me rolling; Mia is sweet-talked into attending a party where she meets a writer who talks himself up a big game. You can literally see the insecurity seeping from his pores as Mia just politely brushes him off. I’ve been to similar parties, and I’ve encountered the same kind of people who have to puff their chest and drone on and on about how successful they are, and how there are so many life-changing deals that are just about to fall into place for them. It’s an ego thing, when you’re failing you have to puff yourself up like a puffer fish in order to show everyone else how awesome, amazing, and efficacious you are. These are honestly the kind of people I encounter so often in my life that it’s wonderful to see it portrayed and referenced in a movie like this. There’s also a funny recurring joke about the Los Angeles scenery; Sebastian takes Mia for a walk through the canyons and Mia is absolutely unimpressed, noting that she’s likely been there before, and she’s certainly seen better views. How many pretentious guys have taken women to the same trails in order to impress them into sex? It was funny to see Mia reject Sebastian’s overtly obvious ploy.
The soundtrack is something I immediately purchased after the credits rolled. The movie makes a big deal out of Mia stating bluntly that she doesn’t like jazz; and honestly I’m on the same boat. It’s not my genre, and although I have an appreciation for the talent it takes to play the genre, it usually doesn’t find itself on any of my playlists. This soundtrack is so explosive, and so magnificently composed that my preconceived notions of jazz were blown straight out of the water. Emma Stone has an amazing voice, but I wasn’t too impressed with Ryan Gosling; his voice just wasn’t doing it for me. Stand out tracks, in my opinion, are “A Lovely Night” and “City of Stars”. “A Lovely Night” takes place during the scene I mentioned where Sebastian is trying to woo Mia with a pretty scenic view, and “City of Stars” is a beautiful love, which contains Goslings’ best vocal performance. These songs pale in comparison to “Audition” sung by Stone; this is the song that 100% convinced me to buy the soundtrack. It’s such a loving tribute to the spirit of those seeking to create art and entertainment for a living.
Maybe it’s just because I’ve been around the Hollywood scene in various ways since 2011, but La La Land really resonated with me. I think everyone should see it; the story is solid, albeit a bit predictable at times, the songs, choreography, and costume design are all so stunning, and the cinematography and lighting are the best I’ve seen in years. Definitely give La La Land a visit.
La La Land (2016) Directed by: Damien Chazelle. Written by: Damien Chazelle. Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons, John Legend.
9 out of 10