Everybody loves a good film. Well, what they consider good is completely subjective, but I think it’s safe to say that everyone enjoys a well told tale. Funny how when you add dancing, singing, and extravagant musical numbers, people then tend to lose interest. I get it. I would agree that people randomly breaking out into song and dance during a casual conversation is inherently cheesy, but that’s the whole point of the genre we call the musical. While some may be annoyed by the constant interruptions of song and dance, if there’s a sound emotional core and wonderfully crafted characters that the songs further emphasize, then I don’t really have a problem. A great story is a great story.

La La Land takes place in the “beautiful” city of Los Angeles, California. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who works as an ever so glamorous barista at a coffee shop on a studio lot. After yet another failed audition, she runs into Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling jazz pianist who wants to make a living just making the music he loves. As both characters find themselves struggling with their personal selves and careers, a beautiful romance begins to blossom.

After being blown away by writer/director Damien Chazelle’s debut film Whiplash back in 2014, I was excited to see what he would do next. While I was initially disappointed that he would be diving back into another musically driven film, once the classical “The End” displayed on the screen, I was absolutely elated. Chazelle effortlessly injects so much heart and charm into every shot, that I couldn’t help but smile at the lavish set pieces, gorgeous costumes, and flawless dance choreography. The sweeping cinematography gorgeously captures the extravagant dance numbers, with the editing and shot composition perfectly syncing up with the music. This film is much more musically driven than Whiplash. We don’t just get your typical musical numbers, but beautiful, lyric free scenes, that let all of the visuals and music do the talking. Chazelle clearly wanted to make a love letter to the Hollywood musicals of old, complete with a romance between our two attractive stars, and I would say he succeeded.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have wonderful chemistry. Stone is so enchantingly natural, easily able to express sadness, hope, and a whole array of other emotions, making you believe every single one of them. She’s a true actress: somebody who can completely disappear into their characters, but still keep her defining traits. Gosling is a real treat here, too. After showing off his surprisingly impressive comedic chops in The Nice Guys, he displays here that he can effortlessly be charming one moment, and hilarious the next. Our pair compliment each others acting abilities so well, that I couldn’t help but smile when they were on screen, even during the more somber moments. It’s too bad that the rest of the film didn’t feel as developed, as every other character and some of the story beats feel very uninspired. The two central characters are irresistibly charming, though, and while they’re not anywhere up to the par of the likes of Gene Kelly, or Debbie Reynolds in their musical prowess, that’s okay. They were perfectly suited for the roles and I couldn’t imagine any other actors to follow on this journey.

What’s a musical without great music, right? Well, not only was Chazelle wise enough to give us developed characters and thoughtful story, but the musical numbers are fantastic, as well. The songs are not just incredibly catchy, but they’re actually quite emotional. While I enjoyed the composition and was impressed by the overall scale, I couldn’t help but feel that these sequences were the weakest in the film. The audio was shockingly poorly mixed, especially during the larger dance numbers. The music is sometimes so loud, you can barely hear what the actor is singing, taking away a lot of the story and characterization being conveyed through song. The ADR was also incredibly obvious in the first two songs, nearly taking me out of the sequences. For a musical, it just seems especially odd that the filmmakers would overlook something so pivotal to the style of film they were making. Fortunately, the rest of these scenes are stellar.

What we have here is an impeccably crafted love story, about two people with real dreams and hopeful aspirations. Chazelle exemplified in Whiplash that he can make a musically driven, yet strongly character focused film, and ‘La La Land’ is no exception. It’s almost like a companion piece, in a way, being a film about very passionate, driven artists and how that drive and passion can have different influences on the direction of your life. Featuring an incredibly catchy soundtrack, that will no doubt be remembered for the rest of film history, it’s a beautifully inspiring film for anybody who has ever dared to dream. I love a great fantastical musical number, but when it has a very engaging story, with lovely characters to back it up, then even better.


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