Movie Review: La La Land

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There once was a time in Hollywood when musicals were all the craze. It seemed like almost every movie released had one or five musical numbers even when perhaps they didn’t need any.

Today though, our movies are populated with fast cars defying the laws of physics and comic book characters saving the world every other summer. So when a movie like “La La Land” comes along, which is a modern day musical, it’s always considered a risk because you’re never quite sure how today’s audiences are going to react to it. I can’t speak for the rest of the word, but I can say that for me, “La La Land” is a delightful, charming, toe-tapping, at times heartbreaking movie musical that will provide you with one of the most pleasant movie experiences you’ve had all year…even if it is just a little overrated.

Advertised as a musical, “La La Land” is more so a love story about aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone giving the performance of her career) and Sebastian (the unfairly attractive Ryan Gosling), a struggling musician, who cross paths with one another and fall in love almost instantly. Bonded by their desire to become a star in their rightful careers, the two use one another as the emotional support they’ve been lacking as they help each other try and turn their dream into a reality.

On paper the plot of the movie sounds rather boring and unoriginal but “La La Land” is actually one of the most original movies you’ll see this year and has the potential to win over even the most cynical of moviegoers. Oddly enough though, the one thing about this movie that didn’t work for me were the songs the characters sang throughout the movie’s duration which as a musical, isn’t really a good thing.

It’s not that I hated the songs. I just couldn’t really feel myself getting invested in them and found myself slightly tuning out whenever someone started singing. The actors sang their parts just fine and the music itself is great. The lyrics just fell a little too short and couldn’t quite keep up with the melody it was trying to follow. This past weekend at the Golden Globe awards, the film’s main single “City of Stars” took home the award for best original song in a motion picture and in my opinion, it didn’t really deserve its win. If anything the HFP (Hollywood Foreign Press) just gave into the hype that this movie has been generating.

On the other hand, the music is fantastic and combined with the dance numbers we get treated to, they more than make up for the lackluster lyrics. There’s a moment during the movie where both Mia and Sebastian dance down the street after meeting at a party and it’s easily one of the best moments in the entire film. In fact, the final dance number to appear in the movie is one of the most visually stunning moments you’ll see in a movie all year and serves as a reminder on just how magical movies can really be.

The real joy of this movie though is simply seeing the performances given by Stone and Gosling who both deliver the best performances of their entire career. I’ve always been a fan of Stone. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie of hers that I didn’t enjoy. What always worried me though was that I felt like with every role she was in she was more or less playing some version of the same character even when she giving a stellar performance. Playing the role of Mia though has finally given her a chance to really shine and give us the opportunity to see how talented she really is. She shows a wide range of emotions throughout the entire movie and I think the most surprising thing about her performance is just how well she can sing and dance.

The same goes for Gosling. In a way he’s playing the same character that he always plays…the charming loner who pursues and wins the girl. Except, he does so in a way this time that different than what we’re used to seeing him do probably because he does it through song and dance. It was reported that Gosling spent three months learning to play the piano for the movie and those lessons really paid off because he absolutely kills it every time he’s given a piano solo on screen. While his singing skills aren’t quite as good as Stone’s, he still gives us a performance unlike any we’ve seen him do before and I’m hoping this opens the door for him to take on more serious and emotionally charged roles because if anything, this movie shows us that he has the talent to really be one of the greatest actors of our time.

“La La Land” isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s kind of slow-moving and the music is made up of mostly slow-paced jazz. Nothing particularly exciting happens and you really feel like you’re watching a musical that was made in the 1920s. If you can keep an open mind though and go in with no expectations, I think you’ll find that this movie will surprise you in the best way possible and might even make you believe that dreams do come true…if only for a moment.

The bottom line: While I do think this movie is a victim of being slightly over-hyped, “La La Land” is the kind of movie that comes along once in a blue moon and when it does you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not going to see it before it’s gone.

— keithariaz1@gmail.com