La La Land is a musical from director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) that’s low on melodrama while full of vibrancy, beautiful tunes, outstanding set pieces, and a stunning sense of realism for a movie where the characters bust out singing.
I think it’s the best original movie musical ever made. I put it up there with Les Miserables, the best adapted movie musical I’ve seen. In short, this baby is a masterpiece—and a complete joy to watch.
The story follows wannabe actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz composer Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they try to make it in crazy Los Angeles. They meet, they don’t like each other much at first, but then they fall in love, which provides Chazelle and his performers ample opportunities for musical numbers that surprise at every turn.
In one of the year’s greatest scenes, the film opens on an L.A. traffic jam that evolves into a full-blown dance number featuring many extras and top-notch editing and camera work that make the whole thing look like one shot. In a year when a lot of big blockbusters swung and missed, this relatively low-budget venture delivers some of 2016’s best hits.
This solidifies Ryan Gosling as one of the best actors of his generation. He can wow you with insightful indies and carry big-budget blockbusters. Now, with La La Land, he takes his game to a new level. He proves he can pretty much do anything when it comes to movie characters.
He can sing with the best of them, he’s definitely no slouch when it comes to dancing and, by god, he sure can play the piano after a few months of intensive training for the movie. (Those aren’t stunt hands playing the keys—those are Gosling’s.) Just like that, Gosling is a full-bodied star of the musical genre.
As for his costar, Emma Stone is a mind-blowing revelation. Her raven hair is going to draw a lot of Ann Margaret comparisons here. She also boasts similar comic/musical energy to the legend. Stone doesn’t just make her mark with a beautiful voice and expert footwork—she embodies the character with the honest and almost tragic drive to “make it” in the business. Mia feels like a real person rather than your typical movie musical cardboard character.
Gosling came up in the same Mickey Mouse Club that touted Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. Go watch some of his Disney antics on YouTube, not only because they are hilarious, but also because they show the kid had a little music in him from the start. He also had an interesting music project a few years back called Dead Man’s Bones. which showed off some serious musical chops.
As for Stone, the most I’d previously seen her do musically was actually sing Blues Traveler’s “Hook” during what was supposed to be a lip synch contest on The Tonight Show. She kicked ass.
While both have shown a little of their musical abilities in the past, it doesn’t prepare you for what they do in this movie. They not only sing with full confidence, but they dance in some killer numbers as if they’ve been doing this sort of thing for years. They have a sequence where they rise into the ceiling of a planetarium that is pure movie magic. I know, that’s a cliché, but it’s the only real way to describe it.
The score is completely original, with memorable tracks like “City of Stars” and “Audition,” which are sure to be in the running for Oscar glory. Heck, many aspects of this film are in the running for Oscar glory.
If you have a hatred for movie musicals, La La Land might be the movie that will warm you up to the genre. Gosling and Stone make for one of the all time great screen pairings, and this one is going to stand alongside the greats. Yes, it’s that good.
Editor’s note: The local movie theaters and distributors are up to their usual shenanigans, and at press time, it appears that the release date of this movie has recently been bumped to later this month. It is confirmed to be opening this week down the hill in Sacramento.