They sure don’t make musicals like they used to. At least that’s what Damien Chazelle’s newest movie ‘La La Land’ wants you to think. It is a beautiful, whimsical, artsy, emotionally packed throwback to the classic “great” musicals of the 50’s and 60’s. From its cinematography presented in CinemaScope to its show-stopping opening number. (which would have made it in my ‘Top 10 Musical Intros’ list if it had been released at an earlier time.) Almost everything about ‘La La Land’ is great, except that I expected it to lean more toward a musical side, and focus less on being a rom-com it is cleverly trying to satirize.
From its start, I was immediately hooked. There is just something about seeing a group of people getting out of their modern-day (Yes, I said “Modern-Day”) cars and singing an uplifting number that sets the classic tone for its genre. The choreography by Mandy Moore (‘So You Think You Can Dance’) is a masterwork that you just don’t see in musicals anymore. In fact, that particular film genre is a dying art form, much like jazz. The film brings these two entirely different genres and delves into them with love and care. It also blends modern-day elements and 50-60’s nostalgia to make a bubbly strawberry-flavored smoothie of a film.
Sprinkle the likes of a dapper piano-playing Ryan Gosling and a dressy surprisingly musically talented Emma Stone on top and you have the works. Gosling plays Sebastian Wilder, who has a passion for anything jazz; he misses the good old days when jazz was king and filled up the nightclubs. He is sadly stuck playing Christmas hits such as ‘Jingle Bells’ every Winter at a nightclub. While Stone plays a struggling actress named Mia Dolan who seems to fail at each audition and is under-appreciated as a barista. After these two end up meeting at the nightclub where Sebastian works, they strike up a relationship that involves conversations about music, movies, and nostalgia and eventually a romance.
Being that ‘La La Land’ is Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s third movie together (the last two being ‘Crazy Stupid Love’ and ‘Gangster Squad’), great chemistry is to be expected. Thankfully, the magic is not lost, as these two not only have great chemistry, but give off some great Oscar-worthy performances. Stone was nominated for ‘Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and ‘La La Land’ is also proof that she can give a great performance. I have also started warming up to Gosling, ever since his performance in ‘The Nice Guys’. I can now say that he is more than just the guy from ‘The Notebook’.
John Legend also shows up to make an appearance as a former friend/fellow musician to Sebastian who has him sign up for his own jazz/R&B group. He is only in the film for a short time, but he has some great moments. As a musical, ‘La La Land’ needs to really show more numbers in its 2 hour running time, because when it restrains itself from going into a number, it stops to a halt and loses its whimsy. Other than that, I believe ‘La La Land’ will be remembered for many years to come.